Officials Ask Residents to Save 9-1-1 Calls for Emergencies

It's a call that local officials are asking Houston-area residents *not* to make, the call to 9-1-1 that does not involve a life-threatening situation. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the local system has been getting more and more non-emergency calls that drain valuable public safety resources.

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The calls to the Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network flow in by the thousands, calls for every kind of legitimate emergency imaginable, but also hundreds of unecessary calls that clog-up the system.

"We receive 6000 9-1-1 calls a day at the Houston Emergency Center."

David Cutler is the center's director.

"Of those 6000, 1500-2000, a full 25-30 percent are 9-1-1 hang-up calls, prank calls, or misdirected calls, people who didn't know what other number to call and 9-1-1 was an easy number. If I could reduce that number by 50-percent, or cut that in half, that would be a tremendous savings, both from a money standpoint and a public safety standpoint."

Starting this week, 9-1-1 officials are launching a campaign to do exactly that, unveiling 50 billboards and radio ads that urge residents to "Use It.....Don't Abuse It. Call only When A Life is on the Line."

"9-1-1. What is your emergency?" "A pipe burst in my house and there's water everywhere." "Stop. Do not call 9-1-1."

The Greater Harris County 9-1-1 system is the largest in Texas and the second largest in the United States, serving 48 local cities in two counties. Executive Director Lavergne Schwender says she's heard it all from callers who dial 9-1-1 for all sorts of non-emergency requests.

"People in this country, we want what we want when we want it. We've been so effective with the dissemination of the information that 9-1-1 is out there that instead of focusing on the real reason, people will dial and ask for the time."

Former Houston Police officer and current city councilman Adrian Garcia says he responded to hundreds of false 9-1-1 calls during his law enforcement career.

"We need to make sure that people respect the 9-1-1 system. It is a number that you don't use just for any given thing. It is a number and a system, a network of people and professionals that are waiting to save lives and that's what we want people to respect. We will react. We will put our lives at risk to save yours, but don't make us do it for the wrong reasons."

Officials say the most common non-emergency 9-1-1 calls involve stranded pets, power outages, loud music and parking tickets. They say a better number of many of those requests would be the city's 3-1-1 service.

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