A number of years ago, I woke up early one morning to discover that the power had gone out during the night.
All of the clocks in my home were run on electricity, so I had no idea what time of the day it was. As it was a work day, I needed to know what time it was so I could plan my morning activities accordingly.
Still half asleep, I picked up my phone (in an era before cell phones) with the intention of calling 411 to ask the operator for the time.
But in my groggy state of mind, I accidentally dialed 911 and was suddenly talking to a police dispatcher who was asking me what was the nature of my emergency.
I was instantly wide awake as I realized my error and apologized profusely to the dispatcher after I explained what had happened.
I thought that would be sufficient to correct my mistake, satisfy the dispatcher and begin my day, but the dispatcher wouldn’t just let it go at that.
She asked if I was alone and if anyone else lived in the house.
I said there was nobody else there and I was the sole tenant of the house, explaining again that it was all a mistake and apologized for the second time in a matter of minutes in an attempt to get her off the phone and put this foolish incident behind me.
But it was not to be.
The dispatcher said she would send a police unit to my home anyway, implying the authorities wanted to make sure there were no nefarious activities that I was trying to hide. Sure enough, about five minutes later, a police cruiser pulled up.
The two officers politely asked if anyone else was in the house as they looked past me into the front room looking for anything suspicious or out of place.
I figured the only way I was going to end this ongoing nightmare was to invite the officers in so they could look around the house for themselves. They took me up on the offer and made a quick inspection before finally deciding, however hesitantly, that I was telling the truth.
I apologized again as they left, making the first hour of that day the most apologetic of my life.
I’ve thought about that incident a lot since and, although it was annoying and even a little frightening at the time, I have to commend that dispatcher and the police officers for their work that morning.
Despite my apologies and explanations, they did their jobs and made sure that there was nothing going on in my house.
Inspector Chris Bear, head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, reported recently that false 911 calls are becoming a big challenge for police in the Cowichan Valley, mainly due to cell phones.
“Many are pocket dials (on cell phones) and nothing is heard on call backs,” he said.
“Many answer the phone and find out it’s the police and, for some reason, try to hang up or turn their phone off. Ideally, if people do accidentally call 911, they need to stay on the phone and talk with police dispatchers who then confirm if there is an actual emergency or not.”
Police resources are increasingly being stretched, so people should be careful with their phones and acknowledge when mistakes are made if 911 is accidentally called.
It saves everyone a lot of time and trouble in the end.