I’m not sure how many times the average person calls 911 but I’ve made more than my share lately and I’m getting tired of it. I’ve called them at least 4 times in recent memory and since none of those have been due to an emergency I think it’s safe to say that they’re getting as tired of me as I am of them.
The trend actually started several years ago while I was watching a friend’s kid play soccer. I got to the field early, no one was there, so I wandered around for a bit to kill time. My phone buzzed and I figured it was someone telling me that I was at the wrong field. I didn’t recognize the number but answered anyway and it was the 911 dispatcher asking if I was okay. Apparently I had managed to pocket dial my way through all the steps to make an emergency call without unlocking the phone. Shortly after that I got a new phone with a properly designed emergency call procedure that my pocket can no longer perform on its own.
The next two times were the fault of our phone system at work. I have to dial 9 to get an outside line like everyone else in the corporate world, and of course a 1 to start a long distance call. I’ve been dialing Montreal (area code 514) and my phone seems to have a sketchy ‘5’ button. Things just don’t go well if I miss that ‘5’ button. Ta daaa! I’ve just dialed 911. We have a private exchange at work, meaning when I call you you can’t see my number. Imagine how surprised I was to learn that this means nothing to the 911 dispatcher who promptly called me back directly at my desk to find out why I had called. “Wrong number” does NOT make them smile in that situation.
As if this wasn’t bad enough they made some changes to the local phone system at work (an “upgrade” they called it.. humpf) and didn’t really tell anyone. Sure enough, I eventually messed up another call to Montreal and dialed 911 again. This time I was smart enough to wait on the line, confess to the operator that it was unintended, and hung up knowing that I’d done it right this time. What I didn’t know was that the local safety and health committee members now get an email the instant anyone calls 911. Within 30 seconds I got an instant message from a co-worker asking if I was alright and seconds later another burst into my cube to ask the same thing. As if being embarrassed in front of the dispatcher wasn’t bad enough.
I fixed this problem by changing the way I dial. I now enter the full number, check to make sure the phone got it right, and then press the ‘dial’ button and let the call go. This seems to have made up for the deficiency in the phone system and for a while anyway kept me from talking to emergency dispatchers.
Last week I traveled to Seattle and rented a car while I was there. I was driving along, listening to the Mariners, minding my own business when a car pulled in behind me with really bright headlights. Suppressing an urge to make a rude gesture I simply reached up and flipped the rear view mirror to the ‘night’ setting, fumbling a bit with the unfamiliar equipment. It seemed strange that the baseball game cut out at that exact moment, and stranger still when a voice said “Emergency operator, how can I help you?” Confused, I told them that I was fine and they said “Goodbye” and hung up. Still confused, turned on the dome light and discovered that there was an EMERGENCY CALL BUTTON ON THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR. Seriously? The rear view mirror? That hardly seems like a smart place to put an emergency call button, but never mind that. I’m still grappling with the concept that the car is nothing more than a rolling cell phone in disguise, eager to call the police for me when I don’t want it to. This problem fixed itself when I returned the car to Avis.
To recap, we have a phone calling 911 on its own, a phone that sets me up for failure, and a car with a built-in phone that calls 911 for me if I’m not careful enough when I adjust the frickin’ mirror. Understandably, this has left me a bit nervous. I mean, what’s next? Will I pop frozen chicken in the microwave, accidentally select 9 minutes and 11 seconds and have a SWAT team appear at my door? If I make a mistake while selecting a channel on the TV remote will a dispatcher appear on the screen asking if I’m okay? I don’t know, but I’m taking no chances. I’ve checked my shoes to make sure there isn’t a phone hidden in the heel. I’ve removed the batteries from my digital watch. I’ve stopped using my wireless mouse and I’ve removed all albums by The Police from my iPod. I think I’ve got all the bases covered, but I’ve thought that before and been wrong. Based on my track record I fully expect that in a couple months you’ll be reading about how my eyeglasses fell on a calculator minutes before the fire truck showed up.