Accidental 911 calls: They happen more often than you might think due to smart devices

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In 2020, Knox County 911 received about 590,000 calls.

A good handful of those calls were most likely were accidental, according to Brad Anders, the executive director of Knox County Emergency Communications District.

Anders said accidental calls to 911 happen all the time.

“Its a few dozen times a day probably,” Anders said.

He said as smart devices make it easier to call 911, calls made by mistake are just as easy.

Anders’ family knows personally.

“First week my daughter had her phone she called 911 out of her backpack at school and got a message,” Anders said.

And as more people buy smart devices, more accidental calls come in.

According to Strategy Analytics, just in the first quarter of 2020 global smartwatch shipments grew 20% to 14 million, compared to the year before.

Of course, smart watches aren’t the only smart device that can easily call 911 without actually dialing it on the phone.

“Everybody’s carrying a device now. You know, back in the days when 911 started, you know you needed to go to a home phone or a pay phone. So we knew those addresses we knew those locations. Not it’s a little different. A lot more technology, but there’s a lot more numbers calling 911 as well,” Anders said.

What happens when 911 is accidentally called?

Anders said it’s not a big deal if someone accidentally calls 911.

His dispatchers can usually tell the difference between a call made by mistake or a real emergency.

For accidental calls, they will simply call back.

“Usually it takes a few seconds to get them back on the phone, or we try a couple of times and leave a message,” Anders said.

Depending on what dispatchers heard on the phone and some other information, they might send help.

“Maybe a history at the callers location or data in our computer that may have told us you know, this maybe be something different than an accidental 911 call,” Anders said.

Fortunately for those accidental callers, they most likely aren’t taking away from other real emergencies coming into dispatch.

Anders said they have several dispatchers working at a time.

It could be an issue if something big is already going on.

“Unless there’s, you know, you have a wreck on the interstate and 30 or 40 people are calling at the same time, or 20 or 30 people,” Anders said.

And unlike purposeful prank calls to 911, accidental calls most likely won’t be legally charged.

“There’s a certain element of the offenses for abusing 911, and generally an accidental call does not reach that element,” Anders said.

How to make a call on your smart device

These emergency features on our smart devices are important when we are in actual emergencies.

To find out how to make an emergency call on your Apple Watch, click here.

To learn how to make an emergency call on your Samsung Watch, click here.

To learn how to make an emergency call on your iPhone without dialing 911, click here.

To find out how to make an emergency call on your Samsung Galaxy, click here.

Anders said it’s important for people to learn how to use the easy emergency features in order to not make accidental calls, but also because it can help if you can’t dial 911.

“We can find you if we need you on that device if it calls 911. We can get the location services from that, so it’s been used for great responses for helping people save lives,” Anders said.

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