FCC commissioner says half of 911 calls are pocket dials

The Federal Communications Commission needs to do something about accidental 911 calls, according to Commissioner Mike O’Rielly.

O’Rielly said his own experiences have shown that at least half of all 911 calls are made by accident due to “pocket dialing,” adding up to a huge drain on public resources.

ADVERTISEMENT

“If my anecdotal experiences are remotely accurate, it would mean that approximately 84 million 911 calls a year are pocket dials,” he wrote in a blog post on Tuesday, citing time he spent in emergency response centers in New York City and Anchorage, Alaska. “This is a huge waste of resources, raises the cost of providing 911 services, depletes [public service answering point] morale, and increases the risk that legitimate 911 calls — and first responders — will be delayed.”

O’Rielly also expressed concern about rules that require every cellphone — even those not currently connected to a wireless network — to be able to dial the emergency number.

While the provision might help some people whose service has been canceled or who keep spare phones for emergencies only, it can also lead to prank calls and accidental dialing from children, he wrote. He noted that in one case, a Tennessee child called 911 84 times in a single night, crippling emergency responders’ ability to deal with actual crises.

“Whether inadvertent or intentional, the Commission needs to review its existing rules to ensure that they do not enable unwanted 911 calls to emergency personnel," he wrote.

The FCC began a process to update its existing rules last year but has yet to make much progress.

In his blog post, O’Rielly also called for action to prevent people from using their cellphones while driving, a habit estimated to have led to more than 810,000 accidents so far this year.

O’Rielly, one of the FCC’s two Republicans, said that the three problems he pinpointed could be stopped through educational means, not new laws or regulations.

“I plan to continue my efforts to spread the word that these practices can’t be tolerated, as well as engage on whether the Commission can take positive steps in a non-regulatory manner to reduce their likelihood,” he wrote.