SIDNEY – A malfunctioning OnStar system highlighted some of the difficulties emergency dispatchers face when dealing with inadvertent 911 calls and 911 hangups.
“We had a 911 call that came in and we had a little trouble tracking it down,” Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said during his weekly interview.
The Shelby County 911 dispatch received a call Saturday from a 2007 vehicle with an OnStar system. OnStar has features for in-vehicle security, emergency services, hands-free calling, turn-by-turn navigation and remote diagnostics systems.
Even though the owner hadn’t subscribed to OnStar for several years and the car was parked with no one in it, a 911 call was inadvertently made, possibly due to an system error caused by heat. The dispatcher then had trouble getting in contact with the car owner to respond to the call.
“They finally ran it down, and it was just a technical error with equipment,” Lenhart said. “I got to thinking about that. We seem to have more 911 hangups than we had before.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office receives 26,000 calls a year including 6,486 911 calls in 2018.
“Out of that there were 41 rollover calls,” Lenhart said. “What that means is the dispatch was so busy that they couldn’t get to the phone calls at the time, and it rolled over to another county.”
Lenhart stressed that all 911 calls are answered. When Shelby County is unable to answer a 911 call due to all dispatchers being busy or technical difficulties, another county’s dispatch – usually Auglaize County – will answer the call.
Last year the Shelby County 911 system received 59 abandoned calls, which is when someone calls 911, realizes it’s a mistake and hangs up. The county also received 752 hangups, which is when a 911 dispatcher answers a call then the caller hangs up.
The dispatchers then have to call back the person who hung up.
“Those are sometimes in the middle of really busy times and emergencies,” Lenhart said. “That just eats up emergency time at the dispatch.
“If by mistake you dial 911, don’t just hang up. Tell the dispatcher that you made a mistake.”
Shelby County used to have 11 dispatchers but now has six, making it even more difficult to respond to hangups.
“We’re still short on dispatchers,” Lenhart said. “That would help us out a lot if they used 911 as intended.”
Along with abandoned calls and hangups, Lenhart said another problem is people calling 911 for non-emergency calls.
“We ask that people not call 911 unless it’s an absolute emergency,” Lenhart said. “All those other kinds of things, the 211 is what you dial for that. That will help us a lot in the dispatch.”
The 211 system is for non-emergency information in the county. Shelby County has had the 211 system in place for several years.
Additionally, individuals can call the Sheriff’s Office’s general information line at 937-498-1111 for information about things such as jail visiting hours, which also is available on the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office website.
A system the county is eagerly awaiting is the capability to text 911, which is in place in larger metropolitan areas such as Montgomery County.
“We’re anxiously waiting on that,” Lenhart said, adding it will save lives.
The Sheriff’s Office is prepared for the texting option but needs the phone company to offer it in Shelby County. There is no timetable set for its availability.
Once the texting option is available, people also will be able to text photos to 911.
“If you text us, you can also send us a picture,” Lenhart said of the future system. “Rescue, fire, law enforcement, when you text a picture, they’ll know exactly what they’re getting into when they get there.”
While Shelby County awaits the texting option, the 911 dispatch remains ready to help anyone who needs emergency help such as in the cases of accidents, fires and robberies.
“If they need help with CPR, we can be helpful,” Lenhart said. “Our dispatchers are trained in that setting.”
Lenhart also said people should teach their children how to use 911.
“We urge people to teach children, even young children, 4, 5 years old, to use 911,” he said.
In other news, Lenhart said he had the opportunity to talk to farmers at the Shelby County Fair. He thanked the farmers and Shelby County residents for their cooperation in sharing the road this year.
“The farmers indicated to me that farmers and our citizens shared the road nicely this year, perhaps more than normal,” he said. “I wanted to thank the agricultural community and the citizens who share the roadways with them.”
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.