The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is advising the public on how to avoid making accidental 911 calls, and what to do when you make one. Like many 911 call centres, TPS Communications Services are experiencing an exponential increase in accidental calls.
In May 2023, the 911 Call Centre received an average of 6,500 calls per day, which is up from 5,200 calls in 2022. The 911 Call Centre receives both 911 calls and calls to the non-emergency line (416-808-2222). Nearly 70 per cent of calls in May were 911 calls, and almost 50 per cent of those were accidental.
TPS Communications Services operates the largest and busiest 911 call centre in Canada, and is experiencing an increase in 911 wait times. When a 911 caller does not respond to the operator, hangs up or is disconnected, the operator must make contact by calling back. When it takes operators a minimum of 90 seconds to call each person back, that is time that could be better spent responding to emergency 911 calls, when every second counts.
To address the increased volume, on May 19, 2023, the 911 Call Centre introduced text message notifications to respond to some calls, requesting that the individual call back if there is an emergency.
How to prevent accidental 911 calls:
- Review the settings on your mobile phone to choose your emergency alert settings and to lock it appropriately, based on your needs. (Note: review these periodically as your device settings may reset after a manufacturer’s update). To update your emergency settings:
- iPhone: click on “Settings” and “Emergency SOS”
- Android: click on “Settings” and “Safety and emergency”
- Store your phone properly so it is not bouncing around in your purse or in your pocket to be sat on. If the side button is pressed five times, it could initiate a 911 call.
- Do not let children play with active or old phones. Even if your old phone is unregistered with no SIM card or cellphone plan, it can still call 911.
- Do not program 911 into your phone.
- Do not call 911 to see if it is working.
What to do if you call 911 by mistake:
- Stay on the line. When you call 911, the call is tracked in the queue, even if you hang up. Please stay on the line to inform the operator that you are safe. This is particularly important if there is an emergency, as your first call stays in queue and your second call will be further back in the queue.
- If you do hang up, an operator the will text or call you to make sure you are safe. Please answer the call, and note that your phone may identify the call as spam because the phone number is blocked.
Hiring additional call takers to address 911 wait times:
TPS is taking steps to reduce 911 wait times, including hiring critically needed communication operators, as recommended by the Auditor General. TPS’ 2023 operating budget is part of a multi-year plan that prioritizes core services, including hiring communication operators to ensure timely help is available when Torontonians call 911. Due to the complexity of this role and the dynamic environment they work in, call takers and dispatchers undergo extensive training that takes 18 months to complete.