To the editor:

An open letter to citizens of Brown County regarding cell phones and 911 emergency dispatch system:

Dear Citizens of Brown County:

As almost every American citizen over the age of five is aware, the 911 system was devised and instituted to provide every citizen with access to fire, ambulance or law enforcement services during a time of emergency. As it was designed, the system does just that, providing prompt dispatch of any and all needed services.

With the increased usage of cellular phones, easily avoidable problems are becoming increasingly common. Most citizens today have one or more cell phones in use in their household. In fact, more and more citizens throughout the country are doing away with their home land lines and relying solely on their cell phone as a means of communication. As cell phones become more advanced, smaller, easier to use, more versatile or even just more attractive to the masses, customers purchase new phones and relegate their old phones to never-never land.

This is where the problems begin. Many people are unaware that even through a cell phone may no longer be in service, the phone will still connect the caller with the 911 system. In the case of prepaid plans, a 911 call may be placed even though there are no minutes left on the prepay plan. Parents are allowing their small children to play with cell phones which have been discarded or are no longer in use. These parents are evidently not aware that whenever the child starts pressing the keys, the phone is connected with the 911 system. The call comes through and the 911 operater is forced to ascertain whether or not the call is a true emergency. Imagine the operator’s frustration when call after call is received from the same number and all because a child is entertaining him/herself. Compounding the frustration is the fact that the operator is unable to make contact with a person when attempting to ascertain if there is an emergency, all because a return call reveals that the number is no longer in service. And, what’s more, imagine that child’s delight when he discovers a real live person on the other end of the line — now this is fun!

As an emergency services dispatcher for Brown County, I am honor and duty-bound to provide all citizens with the most prompt and efficient emergency services possible. I urge all citizens to read the following suggestions and keep them in mind whenever YOU need emergency assistance.

1. Always make sure any cell phone is disabled prior to allowing a child to play with the phone — remove the battery, lock out the key pad, etc.

2. If your child is playing on the phone and you believe that he/she is actually talking to a person, please intervene — the operator will often ask to speak with “Mommy or Daddy” when speaking with a small child.

3. If you accidentally dial 911, do not hang up, always speak with the operator. This is for your protection and will avoid unnecessary trips to your address.

4. Please do not abuse the 911 system, it is for emergency situations only, i.e. if you or another are in imminent danger or fear for your safety. The system is NOT to be used for calls in which there is no immediate threat.

5. The most important information for you to provide is your location, especially when using a cell phone. If, for some reason, the call is disconnected without complete information being gathered, emergency assistance can be sent to you as long as your location is known.

6. Be prepared to answer the emergency operator’s questions completely — the operator is not being nosy but is attempting to discover just how much and what type of assistance is required.

7. Remember that there are laws against abuse of the 911 system and for interfering with a 911 call. Again, this is for your protection, the system cannot function properly if it is being overloaded with non-emergency calls.

This letter was intended to impart useful information to the general citizenry and it is my sincere hope that it has done so.

A. B. Ellis

Brownwood