Though this obviously can not be a problem that is unique to San Francisco, a report by a Google volunteer project team using data from SF's Department of Emergency Management (DEM) has found that some 30 percent of 911 emergency calls are now accidental pocket-dials, or butt dials. As the BBC reports, the call volume at the DEM's call center has gone up 28 percent in the last several years, and cell phone snafus appear to be largely to blame.
This is especially problematic because often distress calls are made when a person is unable to identify themselves or the problem at hand. That means that every last one of these pocket dials needs to be followed up on, which can take precious minutes out of the call handlers' days. As the Google engineers report in a key finding, "Accidental wireless calls also take longer, on average, to resolve than accidental landline calls."
Also, 80 percent of 911 operators in SF reported that these follow-ups took up a significant part of their days.
The FCC has also looked into this issue in New York City, saying they believe 50 percent of emergency calls were mistaken butt dials. Nationwide, as FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly has said via anecdotal evidence, this could mean that 84 million 911 calls a year are butt dials.
The report contains several recommendations for the DEM moving forward, including creating a new automated system for following up on calls that seem to be accidental.
Add this to previously reported problems with the city's 2014-installed 911 dispatching system, which was reportedly causing so much confusion for the police and fire departments that they had to revert to old-timey radio calls. And add this to recent reports of delays in ambulance response times to real emergencies, and god help us all when and if anything terrible happens.