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911: HELP! EMERGENCY SYSTEM OVERWHELMED AND SLOWED BY PRANKSTERS, MISDIRECTED CALLS AND CURIOUS CHILDREN.

A man whose house had been burglarized wasn't impressed with the time it was taking police to respond after he called 911.

So he called back and told the dispatcher there was a dead body in the house - and officers arrived in no time.He got the attention he wanted, but he also got a citation for making a false report.

Local 911 dispatchers characterize this instance as extreme but say they will each likely take 15 to 20 bogus or misdirected calls during any given work shift.

Multiply those numbers by the number of complaint-takers on shift at any one time and you can pretty much assume that a 911 dispatcher somewhere along the Wasatch Front has taken a bad call since the time you started to read this story. Several more crank calls will have been made by the time you finish.

Most of the calls are harmless, but they can endanger someone with an actual emergency by increasing the time it takes to get help.

Utah County sheriff's dispatchers estimate 30 percent of calls coming through their 911 switchboard are from children. The number swells after children see a presentation on 911 at school.

Elementary school-age children are not responsible for as much abuse as junior high students, said Davis County sheriff's dispatcher supervisor Karen Wright.

Some callers have a problem but not an emergency: They have a cat stuck in the chimney, keys locked in the car or need help getting to the bathroom.Hang-up calls are very common Others know the number to dial but don't stop to think that their misdirected query for help may be keeping a dispatcher from a more important call.

and are thoroughly checked out because of the possibility that the caller has a problem so severe he can't stay on the phone.

"Our assumption when one of those (hang-up) calls comes in . . . is that there is an emergency and the caller had to hang up or was forced to hang up without talking to us," Wright said. "We find that most commonly in domestic disputes, where one party hung up the phone when the other was trying to call."

Other common hang-up calls come from children, who are curious about the service because of school presentations or possibly the "Rescue 911" television show on a major network. Accidently pushed buttons on phones that have 911 programmed in an auto-dial function also lead to numerous 911 hangup calls.

Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties are all served by the enhanced 911 system, which means the phone number, address and name listed as a responsible party at that address flashes on the dispatchers screen as soon as the call connects - even on the "oops" calls.

The dispatcher tries to find an adult in the house when checking back on a hangup call or checks with a school official if the call comes from a school pay phone, said Christine Warren, assistant director of training and personnel at the Valley Emergency Communications Center, which dispatches 911 calls in Salt Lake County.

"We don't want to be rude or scare the children, but we do let them know we are extremely busy and we don't want to waste time and tax dollars."

If no one answers, an officer is sent to the address to see whether there is an actual emergency.

Unfortunately for dispatchers, some crank callers - yelling, swearing or just plain rambling - do stay on the line. "We are required not to terminate a call unless we can ascertain there isn't a problem," Warren said. "We'll ask, `What do you want the officer to do? How can we help you?' It usually gets down to `I don't know' or `I just wanted to yell at somebody.' "

Computer software used in the E911 system allows dispatchers to "flag" problem callers and track the number of calls they make. Each complaint is still checked out, but abuses of the system are logged and may lead to a citation.

- Staff writers Brooke Adams, Dennis Romboy, Jim Rayburn and Don Rosebrock contributed to this report.