In July, Avon and Somerset Police received a total of 24,359 emergency 999 calls, of which 2,955 were abandoned (more than one in ten). The team in the emergency control room spent 380 hours dealing with calls of this type – including phoning back the caller to check they were ok.
This figure is 49.6% higher than July 2015, when 1,975 abandoned 999 calls were received.
A 999 call is recorded as ‘abandoned’ when the line is disconnected before the caller speaks to a member of the emergency services or confirms to a BT 999 operator that they are safe and well.
There are lots of reasons someone may abandon a call. It could be a child accidentally calling 999 or someone calling in a crisis situation who hangs up once they realise another person is on the phone to the emergency services.
But the most common type of abandoned calls are caused by someone accidentally ‘pocket dialling’ emergency services. This is where the phone is not locked and accidently calls 999.
Avon and Somerset Police communications manager Rob Simmons said: “When the function to dial 999 is activated accidentally, it can waste precious time that could otherwise be spent helping someone with an emergency and potentially saving a life.
“We understand that accidents happen, but we want people to be conscious that they could be putting other people at risk by tying up police resources.”
Mr Simmons added: “We once received a 999 call made from a dog playing with a house phone. The owners were apologetic when they heard back from us. But, like the advice we give to parents whose children have called 999, we would always ask that phones are kept out of their reach.”
The majority of smart phones have a feature to make an emergency call to the police easily.
Mr Simmons said: “This is a really great function which means people can easily get the help they need when they’re in a genuine emergency.
“But we’re asking people to take a minute to just check their mobile phone settings and reduce the chances of calling 999 accidentally, while ensuring they can still call us easily in a real emergency.”
How can I reduce my risk of pocket dialling?
Android devices have a built in security app called ‘Smart Lock’ which automatically locks the device when it’s not around you and unlocks when it is. It is a simple process to disable this which will reduce the risk of you inadvertently pocket dialling Emergency SOS or other individuals. This will not disable the function to dial emergency SOS. Follow the steps below to disable this feature:
1. Open Settings
2. Go to Lock Screen and Security Folder
3. Click ‘Secure lock settings’
4. Located at the bottom, you will find ‘Smart Lock’. Open this.
5. If ‘On-Body Detection’ is enabled, simply disable.
iOS devices are even easier to choose what features can and cannot be used whilst the device is locked. Follow the steps below to amend your settings:
1. Open Settings
2. Open ‘Touch ID & Passcode folder’
3. Scroll down to the field name ‘allow access when locked’
4. Enable/Disable the features.
iOS users can also rapidly click the sleep/wake button five times to quickly call emergency services. Follow the steps below to disable the settings for auto-calling:
1. Open Settings
2. Open Emergency SOS
3. Disable Auto Call.
Apple Watch users also have the ability to automatically dial emergency services by holding down the side button on the device. You can change your settings so that holding the side button won’t call emergency services automatically:
1. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and tap the ‘My Watch’ tab.
2. Tap Emergency SOS
3. Turn off Hold Side Button.
If this setting is disabled, you can still use the Emergency SOS slider to make a call.
Watch our simple how-to video for iPhone, followed by Android, below:
Other tips from Avon and Somerset Police to reduce the chance of accidental 999 calls:
• Keep your phone safe and out of reach from children.
• Lock your phone before you put it in your pocket.
• Talk to children about when to call in an emergency, how the police can help when they need us but how prank 999 dialling for fun can have serious consequences for them and others.
• If you dial 999, stay on the line. Otherwise we will call you back. The police want to know that you are safe and it saves us valuable time. Every second counts.