I work in a 911 dispatch center in a tourist town. Key West, a city of 23,000 residents, gets about two and a half million visitors a year who seek the tropical sun at the very southern tip of Florida. So, it is not surprising my 911 center gets thousands of misdialed calls from hotel rooms every year. For some reason, lost in the midst of time, the people in charge of telephones decided to make the number “9” the code to access outside lines from shared phone systems.
This means that if you are in an office or a hotel and you want to call home, you pick up the room phone and dial “9” to get the outside line. Then you dial “1” before entering your country or area code, only to fumble and discover that the phone ended up calling me. I say, “Key West 911, where is your emergency?”, and you panic as you have been taught over the years never to call 911 unless it is a REAL emergency, so, you hang up on me. I am required by law to attempt a call back to the number that dialed 911, to see if they need help. When I reach the hotel front desk, the clerk may be able to figure out which room the call came from and will usually send security to see what’s up. So, you face that embarrassing encounter. Meanwhile, I am still obliged to send officers to check… All because of one misdialed number!
There are noises in the Federal Communications Commission to change the outside line number to “8”, but even though the change is obvious and desirable, there is no certain date when such a change might be implemented. Until it is, be careful when dialing out from a common phone exchange, like a hotel or office. If you do accidentally call 911, stay on the line, reassure the operator there is no emergency, and save yourself some embarrassment.