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News : Non-emergency Calls Costing Yakima County
Yakima County, WA, USA, Feb 4, 2016 -- Yakima County's 911 call center doesn't always get real emergency calls. A lot of people accidentally call 911, mostly when they don't have a real emergency. It can be because they're trying to dial out on an office line or they accidentally hit the wrong numbers.
"We get everything, UFO sightings, reports of Big Foot," said Cheryl Miller, Suncomm 911 Call-Taker.
Nearly one-fifth of the calls are from people who don't need help... where no life, and no property is actually threatened.
"I was shocked at how many people accidentally call 911 and how many hang-ups we get each day," said Miller.
Even if 9-1-1 is misdialed, the center has to treat the call seriously, and verify the caller is okay.
"It's our obligation when you hang up, for us to call you back," said Brad Coughenour, Suncomm 911 Public Safety Communications Manager.
Suncomm 911 picks up on 44,000 hang-up calls every year in Yakima County. When they call back, that's 88,000 calls spent on someone who may not actually need help. Because each call takes about 3 to 5 minutes to respond, that's about 5,900 hours spent trying to help those who may not need it.
"That's a lot of time wasted," said Miller.
Not only are these calls a drain on time, they're also a drain on county resources and taxpayer dollars.
"If you just said 'Hey, I got to answer 80,000 calls each year, you'd have to have two people to do that,'" said Coughenour.
It would take two full time call-takers to respond only to the non-emergency calls Suncomm gets at combined salary cost of about $120,000 to $160,000 dollars a year.
So what should callers do if they've accidentally dialed 9-1-1?
"Just say, 'I don't have an emergency. I misdialed and... thank you," said Coughenour.
Then, wait for the all-clear before hanging up. By letting the call-taker know you're okay, it'll save them time from dialing back.
"We do deal with real emergencies too. But it seems like some days, there's a lot of hang-up calls," said Miller.
When seconds could mean the difference between life and death, call-takers hope you'll take the time to let them know the difference.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, February 9, 2016