911 ‘test’ calls could cost you

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Emergency services in Newfoundland and Labrador are making a ridiculous-sounding request to locals: please stop calling 911 just to check if it works.

Yes, that’s really happening. A new province-wide 911 came into effect over the weekend, and the line has been deluged with hang-up calls from people seeing whether the system is for real.

"It's up, it's running. You don't need to check," frustrated Grand Falls-Windsor fire Chief Vince MacKenzie told CBC News.

Emergency test calls create all sorts of problems he says, even if it’s just a hang-up. Operators can’t tell if the hang-up was intentional or because the caller is having a genuine emergency, so they have to spend time following up on those calls. Meanwhile, they’re taking away phone lines and resources from those who might really need them.

And before you have a laugh at Newfoundlanders, take note: this happens all the time — all across the country.

Emergency Management B.C. has had to make the same public request. Nova Scotia call centres were deluged with pranks and hang-ups back in 2000. It’s so predictable that the provincial government’s Friday press release about the new service included a pre-emptive request not to make frivolous calls and a reminder about the legal penalties.

Like most jurisidictions, Newfoundland and Labrador has legislation that covers penalties for abuse and misuse, with a maximum penalty of $1,000 or six months in jail for frivolous calls.

That also encompasses the kind of ridiculous non-emergencies that 911 operators routinely answer, including complaints about malfunctioning Wi-Fi, late pizza delivery, taxi requests or inquiries about the date and time.

If you don't need police, ambulance or fire services, you probably don't need to call 911. And maybe you can just take the government's word for it when it says it's created a 911 service; it probably wouldn't lie about that.

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