05/15/12 — Misdials causing trouble

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Misdials causing trouble

By Steve Herring and Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 15, 2012 1:46 PM

It's been more than a month since callers in Goldsboro and surrounding areas made the transition to 10-digit dialing, but residents in the 919 area code are still adjusting to the concept.

Just ask Switzon Wigfall.

The senior operations analyst with the state Utilities Commission admitted that even he has forgotten to begin his local call with the 919 prefix.

"Especially from the office," Wigfall said, noting that most of his phone calls are made using speed dial or contact dialing. "Every now and then I pick up the phone and dial seven digits."

But dialing the additional three digits has become more than just an annoyance. It has led to serious issues for emergency services in Wayne and surrounding counties as many dialers erroneously have called 911 instead of 919, tying up emergency lines and leading to false alarms and delays in emergency response.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in 911 calls," said Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor. "The majority of those are 911 hang-ups or people will stay on the line long enough to say, 'I am sorry. I did it by accident.'"

"They are having to try to get up with folks to see if they actually have an emergency," Taylor said. "In most cases, if you call 911 and hang up before they answer, or at the time that they answer and you hang up -- well, they in turn are going to call you back. If you don't answer they are going to wait a few seconds and then they are going to try again. If they don't get you then, then that is going to dictate a response by one of the law enforcement agencies. Once that is done they continue to try and call. In a lot of cases after it has been put in as a call they finally get in touch with the folks and tell them they dialed it by mistake and they cancel law enforcement. But at the same time it is taking them (law enforcement) away from response and patrols that they need to be doing dealing with these type of calls."

Before the change, the county averaged around 300 actual 911 calls a day, he said. The average has increased to 400 to 450 daily since the change. The highest volume was 577 on April 10. Taylor said he did not know why it was so high that day.

The mistakes are understandable, but Taylor said the public needs to be better educated as to the burden the misdials place on emergency responders.

For those who misdial, Taylor's advise is simple: Don't hang up.

"Stay on the line," he said. "When they answer, say, 'I am sorry. I made a mistake.' That takes a lot of work off of the telecommunicators not having to call back."

It also means law enforcement does not have to be sent to check on the caller, he said.

The changeover to 10-digit dialing began March 1.

Wigfall said that outside of the misdial problem, there haven't been many other issues with the transition, which was made necessary due to increased population in the Triangle and surrounding areas and a subsequent increase in number assignments as cell phone use increased.

The population growth and near absolute penetration of cell phones into the market has led to the numbers pinch -- similar to what the Utilities Commission ran into with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area in 2001 when the 980 area code was overlaid into the existing 704 area code region.