Bogus calls swamp 911

The Cayman Islands 911 Emergency Services Centre is sending law enforcement, fire or medical services to just 10 per cent of the reports it receives from the public.

It’s not the agency’s fault; call-takers are simply getting a lot of bogus or unnecessary calls.

According to data released by the emergency services, 911 got more than 10,000 calls in January. But only 892 of those calls actually necessitated an emergency response.

Emergency Communications Manager Brent Finster said the sheer number of calls has put a strain on his staff and can end up affecting their work.

‘It absolutely does,’ Mr. Finster said. ‘For example, if we’re on a 911 call and we’re providing instructions for people in a CPR situation while an ambulance is en route…they have to put that call on hold to answer the other 911 line that’s ringing.’

Of the more than 10,000 calls in January, some 4,300 were missed dials or hang-ups.

These calls don’t necessarily have to be pranks either.

‘We get accidental calls, like the butt calls (when someone sits on their cell phone and it dials accidentally),’ Mr. Finster said. ‘LIME uses the 916 prefix for cell phones a lot in Cayman and people sometimes dial 911 by accident.’

However, like any other 911 service, Mr. Finster said the Cayman Islands gets a lot of calls from people seeking non-emergency details such as a phone number for the police station, information from a government agency, or even directions.

‘It’s not affecting the response,’ he said. ‘But it is somewhat of a burden.’

Superfluous calls are nothing new in the emergency services business. However, Mr. Finster said Cayman does seem to get quite a bit more than other emergency services he’s worked for.

In California’s Contra Costa County, the ratio of total calls to actual emergency responses was two-to-one. In Aspen, Colorado, Mr. Finster said that ratio was higher at around five-to-one. In Cayman, 911 records about one emergency response for every 10 calls it gets.

‘It is high,’ he said.

Previously, the 911 Emergency Services budget was determined based on the total number of actual calls that required dispatching fire, police or ambulance. However, this year, the government changed the numbers to include all calls 911 receives, estimating the number at between 80,000 and 84,000 calls per year.

If January’s figures are any indication, Mr. Finster said the 911 service is likely to receive more than 100,000 calls in the 2008/09 budget year.

The government is expanding the resources for 911 staff. Mr. Finster said he has three supervisors and 10 telecommunicators on staff now. There are plans to hire another supervisor, and up to six other telecommunicators once training is completed.

The 911 budget was increased by more than $1.5 million in the current fiscal year.