Dial 911… I mean 919! Area code system leads to emergency service misdials

Here’s an interesting case study about the large consequences of a seemingly small historical oversight in the US system for assigning telephone area codes.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, the area code is 919, which is similar to the emergency services telephone number of 911.  Until recently within Raleigh, dialling the area code was optional, alleviating the risk of misdialling the emergency services.  However, Raleigh is now large enough that dialling the area code is mandatory which has caused an influx of misdialled calls into the emergency services.

Misdials can be verified in a number of ways – such as at the time of the call, through the operator calling back if the caller hung-up, or through sending out police officers to investigate a hang-up.  The problem has gotten so bad that officers are being sent out to investigate hang-ups every 7.5 minutes on average.

The majority of misdials are caused by the elderly, who are less used to having to dial the area code, and businesses, who often need to dial ‘9’ to get an outside line.  Changing the area code is not really considered an option, as it is felt it will be too complicated.  The Director of Emergency Communications has implored citizens to ‘dial carefully’ – though not likely to be an effective solution.

It’s a fascinating problem that highlights how a lack of human factors foresight can go on to cause major operational issues.

Is it worth remembering this case study within industry, particularly when designing communications systems, controls, procedures, etc., so as to future-proof them?

One Response to Dial 911… I mean 919! Area code system leads to emergency service misdials

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