In a call to 911, the little girl said she was trapped in the trunk of a car, sending Nashville police into a scramble to find her on the highway. When a 42-year-old man called 911 to say he was considering suicide, police came rushing. Both calls sounded like serious emergencies. The Tennessean says they actually were just two of the thousands of calls — mistaken dials, non-emergencies, pranks or outright frauds — that wasted the time of local emergency responders who say they can’t ignore even the least convincing callers.
In the struggle to run an efficient 911 system, Nashville has seen success. A 13-month streak of declining 911 calls allowed 2013 to wrap with the fewest since 2009. That helped responders spend more time on real emergencies. Some credit goes to a citywide advertising campaign with a delicate message: Don’t call 911 except for truly life-threatening emergencies. That’s been pounded out on silly billboards and radio commercials, and from a guy in a dinosaur costume. He goes to schools to tell children that they should know how to dial 911 but shouldn’t use it for trivial reasons. “We don’t go by the ‘cry wolf’ theory,” said Duane Phillips, director of the Metro Nashville Emergency Communications Center. “We still have to continue to try to find you.”