Published: 12/04/2007 As weather declines, false emergency calls go up Amesbury Police communications dispatcher Candice Toleos keeps her eyes on five computer screens and four closed-circuit video cameras around the station. This time of year, the number of 911 calls that aren't actual emergencies increases. Bryan Eaton/Staff Photo By Katie Farrell Staff writer AMESBURY - Police dispatcher Laura Kilgour says people call 911 for all types of reasons. Most are true emergencies, but especially this time of year, there are inevitably some that are not. Some callers might be looking for "411," the phone number information line, or for directions someplace. Others still might just be curious - they see police cruisers stopped or police somewhere - and want to know what's happening, Kilgour said. Calls come in, too, when a person wants to check on someone who might be soliciting donations - a good reason to call the police, but not the 911 emergency line, Kilgour said. The reasons are many, but in Amesbury, there are typically one to three incidences of what police call "911 misuses" during an eight-hour shift. "To them, it (whatever the reason) is an emergency," administrative assistant Janet Nicolaisen said. "Everyone's perception of an emergency is different," Kilgour said. The concern for police is that if people are dialing 911 incorrectly, such as to find out about school closings or snowplowing, it can inundate the system and prevent a real emergency call from getting through. In the winter, as people are out shoveling, callers having chest pains or who are in need of medical attention also increase, Nicolaisen said. Police teach residents that 911 is for very specific purposes - to save a life, report a fire or stop a crime. When a caller does qualify as 911 misuse - a call that still must be logged into the police system - a police officer or dispatcher will educate that person as to the correct use of 911, Nicolaisen said. The town receives hundreds of 911 calls each month, but for whatever reason, as the weather gets colder, 911 misuses go up. In October, the police logs show there were 36 misuses. In November, that number grew to 48. Many people call 911 to see if school is closed for the day. "The school closings are a big one," Nicolaisen said. Kilgour said when snow arrives, residents will also call 911 to report a neighbor dispute - like their neighbor is shoveling snow onto their property - or when they need to get to work and their street hasn't yet been plowed. Others try it because the business line is busy - or the caller can't find the number of the business line - or from children who are playing with the telephone and hit the three numbers accidentally. "We get plenty of kids playing with the phone," Nicolaisen said. Last week, a caller dialed 911 to report a loose dog. And recently, a teenager dialed 911 again and again during a fight he was having with his parents one night in order to make them mad. None of these reasons qualify as the right purpose to dial the emergency system. The Amesbury school district will announce a closing via the news media or through its ConnectEd phone message system. And fliers are sent home from school with students reminding parents not to dial 911 to check on school closings. Calls for snowplowing should be directed to the Public Works Department, Nicolaisen said, and calls about loose animals should be directed to the Animal Control officer. Dispatchers also face problems when a person accidentally dials 911. When someone dials 911 and hangs up, the dispatcher will call the number back. Sometimes the person will not answer because they are worried or embarrassed. When a person doesn't answer the call back, police will go and check on that household. "People do that a lot," Kilgour said. "Please pick up." Dispatchers remind residents to call 911 in any event that they feel is an emergency - if they see smoke - or think they see smoke, if they are in a life-or-death situation, or if they need immediate police attention. "When in doubt, call," Kilgour said.