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Dial ‘9’ for an outside line: memo asks those who accidentally call 911 to stay on the line

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WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County Dispatch center receives more than 60 abandoned or hang-up calls a day, some of them from domestic violence incidents or medical emergencies and some of them from people who accidentally dial 911 when they are trying to make a call outside an inter-office phone system.

The situation got serious enough that Jefferson County Emergency Services Director Joseph D. Plummer issued a memo last week to county employees asking them to stay on the line if they accidentally dial 911 when trying to get an outside line.

“As we all know, you must dial a ‘9’ to get an outside line,” Mr. Plummer wrote. “Many times our fingers double hit the second number 1 when you are calling long distance and it rings into 911. This is a common problem across the country for 911 centers and is a very honest mistake.”

“The purpose of the memo basically was to just stay on the line with us,” Mr. Plummer said Thursday.

Mr. Plummer said that when someone calls the dispatch center and either abandons or hangs up the call, the policy of the department is to immediately call back to determine if there is a problem.

According to Mr. Plummer, people may call the center only to have a phone knocked out of their hands or suffer a medical emergency that renders them unable to complete the call.

When an abandoned call is returned and the party at the other end does not pick up the phone or the dispatcher feels there is a problem, a police officer or deputy sheriff can be dispatched to that location. For calls that come from within a county building, a security officer is sent to find out if there is a problem.

Mr. Plummer said he sent out the email simply as a precaution and as a friendly reminder to county employees. But with the center under some scrutiny recently after a debate over manpower at the department, Mr. Plummer said the email was taken out of context.

The truth, according to Mr. Plummer, is that most of the abandoned calls the dispatch center receives come from cellphones.

“The majority is cellphones,” Mr. Plummer said. “People either pocket dial or accidentally hit the emergency button.”

In that case, individuals who accidently dial 911 should also stay on the line and explain the call was a mistake so dispatchers can close the call out if there is no need for an emergency response, according to Mr. Plummer.

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