Old cellphones cause trouble for 911 dispatchers

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — People who have old cellphones lying around should consider taking out the battery, say local emergency dispatchers.

Inactive phones still can call 911, creating problems if there isn’t a real emergency, said Debbie Grady, executive director at SNOCOM, the emergency dispatch center serving southwest Snohomish County.

Roughly 5 percent of the center’s incoming 911 calls are from inactive phones, she said. From January through September, that amounted to 6,749 calls.

The Federal Communications Commission requires that all cellphones, even disabled ones, be able to call 911. Inactive phones often are given to domestic- violence victims or older people in case of an emergency, Grady said.

However, old cellphones also are attractive to young children, who may call 911 accidentally.

“It’s been an ongoing issue for a number of years,” Grady said.

Inactive phones don’t have service, so they can’t give location information to dispatchers, Grady said. The dispatchers can’t call the phone to get details.

The technology is getting better, but even newer cellphones provide only a general area of location to dispatchers, Grady said. Unlike house phones, they’re not hard-wired to a specific address.

“It doesn’t quite work as well as ‘CSI: Miami’ shows,” she said.

To donate cellphones to domestic-violence survivors, go to www.dvs-snoco.org/donatecell. To find other local organizations that collect phones, go to www.americancellphonedrive.org. Some community groups that assist deployed military members also collect cellphones.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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