The misuse of the 911 emergency telephone number

The misuse of the 911 emergency telephone number is becoming a more prevalent issue in the Madison County area. In recent months there have been five arrests made related to the misuse of the 911 emergency telephone number, according to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The calls being received are most common and more often from young children versus teens and adults. Occasionally, calls are received from the elderly that live alone or persons having mental illness/altered mental status with a delusion believing they have an actual emergency, according to the Lt. Terry Lenz-Thigpen, Chief Communications Officer, at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office was unable to provide how many false 911 calls were made within the last fiscal year (10-01-2014 to 09-30-2015), because the E 911 System does not record nor collect what are valid versus ones that are not. According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the communications personnel can only provide an approximate number of unnecessary/non-emergency calls on an average of five to ten daily. The communications center computer aided dispatch further reported that the Sheriff’s Office initiated over 45,000 events within the same reported fiscal year. The 911 emergency telephone number is intended as a nationwide telephone number that gives the public fast and easy access to a public answering point, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). The code 911 was chosen because it met public requirements as it is brief, easily remembered and can be dialed quickly. Some public safety answering points (PSAP) report that 15 to 20 percent of incoming 911 calls are non-emergencies, according to NENA. An emergency is a life-threatening situation where every second counts, such as a heart attack; uncontrolled asthma attack, childbirth in progress, any event involving large amounts of blood or an uncontrolled fire. A life-threatening event can also be a knife fight, an armed robbery in progress or a serious car accident. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office says there is no specific time frame or period when receiving these types of calls. However, the communications center does tend to receive more calls from children/juvenile callers when school is out for summer and school holidays. According to Lt. Terry Lenz-Thigpen, CCO of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, parents are encouraged to educate their children on the proper use of 911, and to not make prank calls or calls to 911 unless they need assistance. “It’s important for the community to know that it’s okay to call 911, but to use their best judgment when calling,” said Lt. Lenz-Thigpen. “Whether it is a true emergency where time matters and responders need to get to a scene as quickly as possible, or if the call could possibly be made through the non-emergency numbers.” According to the 2015 Florida Statutes 365.172 it states that any person who accesses the number 911 for the purpose of making a false alarm, complaint or reporting false information that could result in emergency response of any public safety agency; any person who knowingly uses or attempts to use such service for a purpose other than obtaining public safety assistance has committed a misdemeanor in the first degree. According to sections 775.082 and 775.083 of the 2015 Florida Statutes, a person who has been convicted of a non-criminal first-degree offense is subject to 10,000 dollars in fines and court fees. “Even though the Sheriff’s Office recently installed a new phone system that allows transfers of all calls without a caller having to hang up and dial a separate number, the Sheriff’s Office continues to utilizes the main contact number that has been listed and advertised for more than 30 years,” said Lt. Lenz-Thigpen. Please be advised that if you have a non-emergency call, please call the designated non-emergency call line at, (850) 973-4001. This line is answered seven days a week, 24 hours a day just like the 911 emergency number. The number can also be found in the Madison County phone book, as well as on the Madison County Sheriff’s Office website.

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