Wet Wires Resulting in Fake 911 Calls in Kentucky

July 23, 2013

Dispatchers in western Kentucky must send a law enforcement officer to every 911 call received from a landline telephone, even when there’s no sound from a caller on the other end.

Recently, though, occupants claim they never called 911. And, in some cases, the calls have come from vacant lots.

Ohio County 911 Dispatch Director Carol Smith told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer that wet phone wires are triggering the phantom calls. Dispatch directors in Daviess, Muhlenberg and McLean counties have reported a similar phenomenon.

Homeowners tend to be unhappy when law enforcement officers arrive at their door uninvited to ask about a problem that doesn’t exist.

“It startles people,” Daviess County 911 Director Paul Nave said. “They think someone is tapping into a line.”

AT&T spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski says the company is not aware of the problem.

“I have … found no example of accidental 911 calls occurring from a home as a result of heavy rain damage,” Lewandowski said.

The phantom calls are the result of a short in a telephone wire, which sends a signal that is interpreted by the phone system as a 911 call, Nave said. The calls don’t happen every day but occur mainly when it’s raining or the ground is saturated, Nave said. Nave said the AT&T equipment interprets the short as a 911 call and routes it to the county.

Nave said the dispatch center will get up to nine calls from areas where there are no longer homes.

“Sometimes, it will be where a mobile home was, and now … there’s nothing,” said Kristi Jenkins, director of Muhlenberg County’s 911 center. “You go out there, and there’s nothing there.”

Nave said a malfunctioning wire is often later found to be in the phone line going into a home

“Sometimes, I believe, as your system gets older, the (wire casing) wears out,” Nave said. “We let them (the homeowner) know what’s happening so they can report it to their carrier.”

Nave said if dispatchers receive several calls from a location where there is no home, they’ll mark that location and not send deputies to the location for the rest of the day. But if calls come from the same location the next day, deputies will be dispatched again, Nave said.

“It’s one of those situations the 911 board had to embrace and fix when we can,” Nave said.

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