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Children use old cell phones to prank call 911
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Old cellular phones that no longer have service may seem to be harmless toys for children, but they can also be a problem for 911 dispatchers.
     Many people are unaware that 911 can still be dialed - and the call go through - even if the phone does not have service, said Judy Lancaster, Bulloch Central 911 dispatcher.
    "We have several calls a day from kids playing with old cell phones, and it ties up lines that could be used for emergencies," she said.
    Bulloch County 911 Director Kelly Barnard said it is quite common to receive a call from a cell phone that is no longer in service.
    "It is a built in feature on all cell phones that you can always access the 911 system," she said. "As long a cell phone has battery power it has 911 access."
     Many people give their old cell phones to their children after they
 upgrade to a new phone or switch companies, she said.  "These phones can still access 911.  It is an increasing problem to the 911 center. Many of
 these calls interfere with true emergency calls, forcing the  dispatcher to place a real emergency on hold to answer a prank call."
    A dispatcher may be prevented from taking a call from a person that has a house fire or a caller that can perform CPR on a person that has had a  heart attack while being tied up with prank or unintentional 911 calls from kids playing with old cell phones, she said.
    In most cases, tracing a call from an out-of-service cell phone is not possible, she said. "We then spend time trying to gather information and locate the caller  when many of these are prank calls mostly coming from children.  Most people think that we can trace these calls and that is
 not the case.  These calls come in and the information only shows as
 "911 access only"  it gives us no way to call the person back or to
 know where they are calling from."
    If someone using an out-of-service cell phone for a true emergency, they must  "at least give a  location of the emergency and the type of emergency that they have," Barnard said.
    Lancaster said in one case, a juvenile uses an out-of-service cell phone to repeatedly make prank calls,using profanity. There is no way to trace the out-of service phone, she said. The regular prank calls are very aggravating and could prevent another caller with a true emergency from getting help in time.
    Barnard asked parents not to allow children to play with real cell phones, even if they are not in service.
    "If you have a cell phone at home with no service, make sure you know
 where it is, do not give it to a child to play with," she said"These children
 do not know what it is like to have an emergency caller on the line
 who truly needs your help and to have other calls coming into the
 center that are prank calls."

Dispatcher Appreciation
     Barnard said 911 dispatchers are always busy and keep their cool while handling  emergency calls as well as prank calls. Today wraps up Dispatcher Appreciation Week, and she expressed her gratitude for the professional staff she supervises.
    " These  911 dispatchers have a very important and sometimes thank-less job," she said. "They are the first person that a caller talks with  during or just after an emergency.  Most people only dial 911 once or  twice in their lives, and we have one chance to get it right.  A dispatcher can make a difference in the outcome of a call."
    They are "the lifeline between the caller and the responder," she said.  Emergency situations are "usually the most stressful times a person will face.  The dispatcher must be the calming person that takes charge and knows what to do."
    Dispatchers are often the "silent" partners in emergency response, she said.   "The public  sees the police officer, fireman and EMT/paramedic but no one sees the call taker. These are the unseen heroes and that is why we need to acknowledge the special service they provide."
    Barnard praised the professional staff at Bulloch County Central 911, with a combined experience of almost 60 years. The Central 911 staff includes: Nancy Akins,911 CAD Radio Manager,15 years of service; Judy Lancaster, dispatcher, 14 years of service; Becky Francis, Operations Manager,nine years of service; Robert Fail,  dispatcher, seven years of service; Mary Ann Rich, dispatcher, five years of service;
    Also, Kerri Borgman, dispatcher, three years of service; Karen Puchala, dispatcher, two years of service; Chris Blackburn, dispatcher, one year of service; Michele Miller,  dispatcher, one year of service; Rebecca Littleton,dispatcher,three months of service; and Matt Webb, dispatcher, one month of service.
    Bulloch Central 911 also has three part-time dispatchers:  Susan Burke, Jennifer Lariscy and Tina Greenhaw.
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