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FCC Commissioner: Butt-Dialing Is Taxing 911

Butt dialing has become a national emergency in the U.S. That’s the impression that Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly came away with after recent visits to 911 call centers in New York and Anchorage. About 70 percent of the calls came from wireless numbers, and of those, 50 percent or more were the result of someone accidentally pressing buttons when their phones were in pockets or purses.

While butt dialing is hilarious when it relates to professional baseball teams, O’Rielly finds it a threat to public health when it affects the emergency call system. By his back-of-the-napkin calculations, as many as 84 million calls are accidentally made to 911 each year. “This is a huge waste of resources, raises the cost of providing 911 services, depletes [public safety answering points] morale, and increases the risk that legitimate 911 calls—and first responders—will be delayed,” he posted on the FCC’s website on Tuesday. What’s more, the sounds that come from a phone that has been accidentally dialed—muffled speech, repeated banging, and mysterious wind-like noises—are similar to those that might come from a phone cal made by someone in trouble.