When you were younger or when 9-1-1 first came to Texas County, did you ever wonder if it really does work? Maybe you just dialed the number and…

Dispatcher: “911, where is your emergency?”

Caller: “You are a dork!”

Dispatcher: “This is 911 emergency. Do you have an emergency?”

Caller: “Yeah you are a dork!” Caller then hangs up.

Dispatcher could tell this was a kid on the line. The phone number is noted and logged in the CAD system.

Phone rings again.

Dispatcher: “911, where is your emergency?”

Dispatch obtains address, phone number and name of the caller.

Dispatcher: “What is your emergency?

Caller: “I think my husband is having a heart attack.”

The dispatcher will continue to ask question and provide instructions for this emergency. Dispatcher 2 will dispatch responders. While the dispatcher is asking questions, the Phone is ringing in the background, another emergency call. Dispatcher 2 is talking to responders about the possible heart attack. Dispatcher 3 answers the emergency call. Thankfully there are three dispatchers on this evening. If there had only been two, the second dispatcher would answer the call ringing in and while sending responder via radio.

Dispatcher 2: “911, where is your emergency?”

Caller: “Where is your emergency dork?” Caller hangs up.

Again, the phone number is logged and it does match the previous number from the prank call.

Dispatcher 1 has finished with the medical call and all responders are on the way. Currently in dispatch there are two more calls that have come in one being a house fire and the other a well being check needed on a family member. During this includes radio traffic with updates and talking to the responders for active calls.

Phone rings again, dispatcher 3 that was handling some radio traffic had to stop briefly to answer the emergency call.

Dispatcher3: “911, where is your emergency?

Caller: ……

No direct response from the caller, however the dispatcher can hear at least two kids telling each other what to say. They have not realized that the call has been answered. This time as the dispatcher is logging the phone number, they see that it is a match for the last two. They other two dispatchers have finished and disconnect from their calls. The call is mapping in the same area as the first two calls had.  The phone number is one that cannot be called back, dispatch can recognize this on how it appears on the screen. This means it could be an old phone or a phone with no minutes on it.

It so happens that the area is in the city limits of Houston. Dispatcher 1 sends a Houston city officer over to the location to check. Dispatcher 3 is going to keep the line open as long as possible. Houston officer arrives at the location. Dispatcher 3 hears the phone go quiet but still an open line. Soon the officer is picking up the phone in the residence. He was able to confirm there were three kids there playing with the phone. Thankfully, the officer was able to educate both the kids and guardians on misuse of 9-1-1. While the officer is still there, another call is received on the other side of the city of a burglary alarm.

I am grateful to all the law enforcement in Texas County; there are countless calls throughout the 28 years that they have responded to that turned out to be nothing. It would not matter if this call was in Houston or anywhere in the county, an officer or deputy would have been asked to go and check on the location. While they are doing this, it is taking time away from other real emergencies that may be taking place. This type of call would not be a priority, but if they were on the way to check this location, and another emergency was reported that is time wasted that could have been spent responding for the other emergency.

Old cell phones are often given to kids and young children to play games or watch videos on. Even though those phones may not have minutes or calling service, all cell phones with power that can reach a tower will be able to dial 9-1-1. With technology enhancing every day, almost all calls can be located on the mapping system as soon as the call reaches the system. That means even if one hangs up before they hear a dispatcher say “911, where is your emergency?,” the system has your location. If for some reason it will not map, dispatch has authority to reach out to cell phone companies to have a call trace completed. Any call like this will never be ignored. Even though it may be clear that it is a prank call, dispatch is responsible for the “what if” factor. What if it is not a prank?

Over the years, 911 has always had prank calls, so this is not a new concept. I have used “dork” in this example, but that is a mild term compared to some of the other names or phases used. Dispatchers are not able to tell what is on the other end of the line until they answer the emergency call. Will it be a heart attack victim? Will it be someone choking and need instructions? Is there a child not breathing? Will it be a house fire? Will it be a prank? Dispatchers must answer each call as they ring in. Dispatchers are highly skillful in multi-tasking and prioritizing calls, when a Prank call rings in it takes time away from all involved. 

 I would ask that all guardians educate themselves and children about the use and misuse of 9-1-1.

The Texas County Emergency Services office in Houston is funded by a 3/8-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 2013. Assistant director Terra Culley can be reached by phone at 417-967-5309 or by email at terraculley911@hotmail.com.

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