"Throw away" cell phones can create problems for the county communication center, according to Dave Skou, communications supervisor for the Cherokee County Law Enforcement Center and the 911 coordinator for Cherokee County.
Skou noted that cell phones are increasingly replacing land lines for phone calls, including 911 calls. Of the 227 calls last month to 911 in Cherokee County, 65 percent were from wireless phones.
As cell phone owners replace their old cell phones with newer ones, they sometimes give the old cell phones to relatives for emergency use. Skou said the old phones can be used to call 911 even after the phone number is discontinued but he cautioned that when a call is dropped, as it frequently is in some areas, the person and location of the call cannot be identified. There is no way to call back the 911 caller to verify whether or not help is needed.
Recently, the communication center received repeated 911 calls over a half hour period. Nobody was on the line when the call was answered and the number had been deactivated so there was no identification of who the caller was or where the call originated.
There is a procedure to go through with the phone service provider for identifying the last owner of the phone but this takes time, which can be tragic in an emergency situation.
It took over an hour to track down the recent repeated calls to 911. As it turned out, the repeated 911 calls were made by young children who were given a "throw away" cell phone to play with.
Skou advises against giving children a deactivated cell phone as a toy.
There are also problems with 911 hang ups, even when the source of the call can be identified. Sometimes an automatic 911 dial up button is pushed accidentally or a cordless phone system will activate the 911 dial up when the battery runs low or for some other reason, 911 is unintentionally called. Often in such instances, the embarrassed caller will immediately hang up.
"We are all capable of making a mistake. Please stay on the line when 911 is called and let us know what is happening," Skou urged.
The alternative to the caller describing the situation to the dispatcher is to having law enforcement officers dispatched to the location, if the location can be determined.
The location of the call can be determined by a GPS chip in every cell phone sold from December of 2005 on. Skou noted that sometimes this is automatic but it sometimes requires activation of a locator procedure. If someone hangs up or the call is dropped before the procedure, the location cannot be pinpointed.
Skou urges the public to cooperate to avoid unnecessary problems to emergency service providers as the result of cell phones.