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Rise in 911 hangup calls

Recently retired Waupaca County communications officer Lisa Wheelan taking a 911 call. Dawn Vinz photo courtesy of Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office

Cellphone SOS cited as cause

By Robert Cloud

Communications officers at the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office are reporting a significant increase in hangup calls to the 911 number.

Communications Capt. Kevin Studzinski said the county’s emergency line received 221 calls that were either hangups or misdials in May 2022.

In May 2023, the county received 878 misdials or hangups out of a total of 1,947 calls.

Studzinski attributes many of the misdialed calls to emergency SOS settings on cellphones.

On the Apple iPhone, users can find Emergency SOS under Settings. Options include making an emergency call by pressing and holding the side and volume buttons simultaneously or pressing the side button rapidly five times.

These emergency options can be accidentally activated simply by putting the phone into a tight pocket or into a cupholder in a car, boat or lawnchair.

“If the SOS setting is on, an iPhone can set off a 911 call and the user not know about it,” Studzinski said.

“Recently, Android added this same feature and it amplified the problem exponentially and 911 centers around the country have been flooded with accidental 911 calls,” according to the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association on June 20.

Stay on line

If someone misdials 911, Studzinski asked that they stay on the line “because it saves a lot of steps.”

When they receive a hangup call, 911 operators try to call back. If nobody answers, they leave a message.

At the same time, communications officers are looking up the phone number and the address, checking to see if there are records of prior police contact for either the people and the address.

They also notify an officer. County deputies are required to respond to 911 hangup calls because the caller may be the victim of domestic violence or a other crime and be unable to pick up the phone.

“We’ve had cases where we called back, they say there’s no problem, but when the officer gets there, they find there was a domestic going on,” Studzinski said.

Follow up on hangup calls are time-consuming for 911 operators and officers who respond.

Studzinski encouraged people to switch off Emergency SOS settings on their cellphones unless they are elderly, have disability or have a reason to need the service.

He also noted that even deactivated phones still have the ability to call 911 if they have charged batteries.

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