Nuisance 9-1-1 calls tie up call-takers and phone lines unnecessarily.

Nuisance 9-1-1 calls tie up call-takers and phone lines unnecessarily.

A broken gym locker is not a valid reason to call 9-1-1

Non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 - also called nuisance calls - can mean that real emergency calls can't get through.

E-Comm, the largest 9-1-1 call centre in British Columbia, has issued a list of the top 10 nuisance calls they received in 2016 that tied up phone lines and call-takers unnecessarily.

Number one on the list was someone calling to ask for help opening a broken gym locker, while number two was a person calling 9-1-1 to ask about a job opportunity for a family member interested in police work. Other nuisance calls on the list included someone complaining their electric shaver would not turn off; someone tired of waiting in traffic; and a person calling to ask what time it was.

“I’d like to be able to say that calls such as the ones on our top 10 list are rare, but unfortunately this isn’t the case,” says call-taker Jim Beland, who took the broken gym locker call. “As call-takers our job is to treat each call like an emergency until we can determine otherwise, and this takes time. We want our time reserved for people who need help because they have a legitimate emergency.”

Call-taker Chris Faris, who fielded the police job call, agrees. “Unfortunately, we do get a lot of people who call 9-1-1 thinking it can be used as an information hotline. We get a lot of calls that start off with ‘This is not an emergency, but …’ and that’s a concern when we know there are other people out there who need our help.”

E-Comm receives approximately 1.35 million calls every year to 9-1-1. Any time a 9-1-1 line is taken up for a reason that does not require immediate action from emergency services, lives could be at risk.

E-Comm’s website at offers tips on when—and when not—to call 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1 if there is an immediate threat to a person or property; if a substantive, in-progress crime is being committed (fights, break and enters, impaired driving); if a serious crime has just been committed (such as sexual assault or robbery); and if there are signs a crime is about to be committed.

Do not call 9-1-1 for non-emergency things such as a noisy party or drug use; to report a crime with no suspect (e.g. theft of a licence plate); ongoing crime issues or a crime that is not in progress (graffiti); or a crime with a suspect who is not at the scene.

For any of the above non-emergency issues, call your local police department’s non-emergency number. Calling 9-1-1 for them will not result in a faster response, as true emergencies are always given priority. The 9-1-1 call-taker also cannot transfer you to your local police detachment’s non-emergency number; you will have to hang up and dial it yourself.

Do not program 9-1-1 into a cellphone, and make sure that you cannot accidentally “pocket dial” that number (or any other) by locking your phone when it is not in use. If you do accidentally call 9-1-1, stay on the line and speak to the call-taker. If you hang up without speaking to someone, they will have to try to call you back to ascertain that you are safe.

Parents should teach their children how to make a 9-1-1 call and when it is appropriate to do so. In order for children to understand what constitutes an emergency, they must understand what is not. A fire, an intruder in the home, or an unconscious person are all emergencies; a skinned knee, a missing pet, or a stolen bicycle are not.

Children—and adults—should be made aware that every time a 9-1-1 line is taken up by a non-emergency call, it might delay a response to someone who really does need immediate assistance. However, stress to children that if they are unsure whether or not something is an emergency, and there is no adult present to ask, he or she should call 9-1-1; better safe than sorry.