Butt Dials Overload San Francisco 911 Dispatchers

Butt Dial

San Francisco’s 911 call center has been burdened with a “painful” problem.

A surge in butt dials over the past three years (28% increase between 2011 and 2014) cut into valuable time for operators forced to work longer hours as they seek to determine whether each butt, or pocket, dial is a true emergency.

In a study completed by Google, which was first reported by the BBC, researchers found that 30% of all 911 calls coming from cellphones in San Francisco were butt dials. Business Insider notes that this statistic builds on previous research by the FCC that determined an estimated 50% of the emergency calls in New York City from mobile phones were pocket dials that the users were unaware of.

This is in large part due to a requirement that all smartphones must allow for emergency 911 calls to be made without unlocking the phone which vastly increases the possibility of a butt dial from a person’s pocket or purse.

The issue is amplified when 911 operators are not able to discern between a butt dial and a situation where someone has gotten the phone knocked out of their hand by an attacker, or are somehow incapacitated, the Business Insider writes.

Furthermore, it is standard protocol for 911 operators to follow-up with every potential butt dial they receive in order to determine whether or not the call was an actual life-threatening emergency. According to the study, it reportedly takes an average of one minute and 14 seconds for each of the operators to complete this task.

The Google study notes that approximately 39% of emergency operators said butt dials were the biggest “pain point” they had in their job.

The strain becomes more evident when noting that while the volume of calls were increasing, staffing levels remained stagnant which placed tremendous pressure on the system, resulting operators out of the San Francisco 911 center being encouraged, and often forced, to do overtime.

“If my anecdotal experiences are remotely accurate, it would mean that approximately 84 million 911 calls a year are pocket-dials,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly reportedly wrote.

Yet, there is a silver lining with the situation too. Business Insider recently covered a story about a Tennessee teen who was saved by the accidental activation of Siri on his iPhone. The 18-year-old was reportedly trapped beneath a truck that fell on him this past August. No one could hear his cries for help but for Siri who called 911 when he asked her to. The Insider also notes that telling Siri to “charge my phone 100%,” automatically dials emergency services.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.



Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.