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[P]
Accidental 9-1-1 call: How it happened

By ip4noman in Technology
Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:16:22 AM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)
/etc

I'm writting to you to tell you of an incident which just happened. I was relaxing at home after work, having my dinner, talking to my lady on the phone, when suddenly, several axe wielding firemen and police officers began loudly knocking at my door!

They said that there was an "open line" 911 call coming from my apartment.I couldn't believe it! I made no such call! So after I convinced them I had no emergency, I started thinking about what could have happened, and I think I have a possible explaination. It may not be a bug per-se, but it is the result of a complex interplay of little quirks in the phone system, which may add up to a large human factors problem.

[META: This diary entry submitted as a story because it is an interesting tale of an evolving technology pushed to its limits, and the importance of human factors in good design.]


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comments (24)
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(This particular problem is probably unique to residential phones in the United States only)

Most of us who have day jobs for many years have had to dial "9" to get an outside line. Also, because of the North American Numbering Plan, and 1+ dialing, the phone companies insist that we dial 1 before any long distance phone numbers. So, at work, we commonly dial the sequence "9-1" in order to prepare for dialing a long distance number. Guess what? That's just one digit away from the magical "9-1-1" sequence.

Now I realize that simply dialing 9-1-1 at work wouldn't do anything, because the first 9 just gets you an outside line. You would have to dial the sequence "9-9-1-1" in order to dial the emergancy dispatcher. But the point is, many of us now dial "9-1 ... " out of habit.

The next piece of the puzzle is that nearly all telecom switches still maintain a rotary-dial compatibility mode. Yes, you can actually dial a number by depressing the switch-hook repeatedly; I've done it. Be careful though, timing is critical, and nines and zeros are a bitch!

So let's say you are at home, and dial the sequence "9-1" by accident, like to get an outside line at work, and begin a 1+ long distance number. Aw shit. Hang up and try again, right? BUT WAIT! You may not realize it but your are dangerously close to calling out the guys in asbestos suits with axes! If you just depress the switch-hook for a second or two, the switch resets and you start all over. But if you just depress it too shortly, it counts as a "1" due to the rotary compatibilty mode!

Now the last piece is this: You may think that in-band signaling is a thing of the past, but it isn't. In the telecom company's infinite wisdom, they have overloaded this switch-hook depression to an extreme degree. It can be a hang-up request to "start over", it can be a rotary "1", AND, if you happen to have already connected to a party, it is now the "flash" signal, a request to put the first caller on hold, and get a new line, for three-way calling, etc.

So, here is what I think happened. I dial

  1. "9-1",
  2. aw shit, I'm not at work
  3. <hang up> -- Just completed 911 due to rotary compatibilty mode!
  4. don't hear dial tone (because we are connecting to emergancy dispatcher!)
  5. <hang up again> (3-way calling mode, dispatcher now on hold, which they refer to as an "open line")
  6. Dial my lady... yack away... moments later, troops arrive!
Just to let you know to be cautious in a similar circumstance.

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Display: Sort:
Accidental 9-1-1 call: How it happened | 82 comments (70 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
You're right (4.05 / 17) (#2)
by davidduncanscott on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:13:20 PM EST

and from now on, I'll be a lot more careful when I'm calling your lady!

Hi.. (2.84 / 13) (#5)
by Mysidia on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:34:01 PM EST

It seems you did the same thing to your modem.

You inadvertently accessed K5's rotary-dial compatibility mode and clicked briefly causing it to dial a "Technology" article instead of a "Diary" article.

Not technology-oriented-enough for technology.

Not enough opinion for Op-Ed

Not quite funny enough for Humor



-Mysidia the insane @k5+SN
<-- indecisive: n/m, I like it [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by Mysidia on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:36:31 PM EST



[ Parent ]
Weird/Funny Vaguely Related Story (4.83 / 24) (#6)
by snowlion on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:36:14 PM EST

When I was about 16 living with my parents, there was a period where my mom started getting a large number of very strange, and even rather distrubing answering machine messages.

They generally consisted of rhythmic hums and a whispering person describing accidents. Strange, no?

And then, when we were calling other people, we'd start to pick these up as well, hearing them in the background.

Luckily, it came to and end: I was on the phone with my best friend Joel, talking about a calculus test, philosophy, and mysticism.

We heard "the voices" again, and Joel and I talked about it. The voices began talking about the dead and deceased, and about some quick action that needed to be taken.

Joel and I stopped talking, and then started listening. It was some sort of emergency situation, and different people were doing different things. Helicopter over here, a fire truck there, all sorts of stuff. Joel and I started commenting on what we were hearing; We thought it was pretty funny. We started making mock-replies to the people talking; Sort of like MST3K.

We were suddenly freaked out when the people started talking to us..! They were some sort of radio discussion band for hospitals, the police, and fire fighters. I didn't know anything about it, but said: "Well, you're on my phone line for some reason. We keep getting answering messages from you guys talking."

The guy I was talking with told us to tell the phone company about what was going on. I agreed, and was about to hang up. Before we left, though, he told us, "By the way, good luck on your Calculus test."

True story. {:)}=

I did call the phone company, and explained what was going on. We never had any problems after that.


--
Map Your Thoughts
Similar problem (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by kalanar on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:29:18 AM EST

I was having problems with a channelized T1, at one point, where the 24th channel was doing exactly what happened in your case.

Phone company came in and plugged into the channel and there were phone conversations with random people on it.

The telco field tech said that they've had the problem before, something about a fault in the switch.


[ Parent ]
On my cell phone! (4.50 / 2) (#44)
by GoRK on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:21:28 AM EST

I used to get this sort of thing on my cell phone about a year ago. I always thought it was pretty funny how occasionally I'd try to make a call or pick up the phone when someone was calling me and be able to listen to another call in progress.

Sometimes I could hear only one party, sometimes both; but they never seemed to be able to hear me.

One day, though, I answered the phone and heard some redneck yacking on the line about how he had gone to wal-mart to buy a rifle, but they were going to make him wait (duh) before he could pick it up. So, he was going to get his friend to go over and try to buy it instead, since, somehow, he reasoned that the mandatory waiting period laws applied only to him or something.

So I was there on another telephone talking to someone about how I had some stupid redneck dude on the phone and giving them the whole story, when suddenly the guy said "WHO IS THIS!?!?!?!" Apparently whoever he was talking to had been replaced by me. It was pretty freaky.

[ Parent ]
What you experienced is plain crosstalk (none / 0) (#57)
by marinel on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:12:30 PM EST

What you experienced is nothing mystical, it's plain and simply crosstalk, a recurring problem caused by inductance known since the late 1890s, a problem that technology did not manage to get a lid on yet! For as long as we still use copper in our phone networks, crosstalk will live on.

Ionel
------------------
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered.
Religion is answers that may never be questioned.
--
Proud supporter of Students for an Orwellian Society
[ Parent ]

ISDN (none / 0) (#58)
by YesNoCancel on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:33:44 PM EST

Shouldn't this problem be eliminated when using ISDN?

Most companies and larger institutions use ISDN nowadays, even many private users do (for fast internet access).

[ Parent ]

I Think it was a Little More (none / 0) (#61)
by snowlion on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:28:46 PM EST

Our phone line was tied to some sort of radio network.

My guess is that the radio network was extended by the phone network; Maybe some police chief has a phone at his desk that is permanently connected to the radio network, or something like that. Then we cross-talked with his phone line, and then by extension, with the radio.


--
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]
Much Simpler (4.93 / 16) (#8)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:01:44 PM EST

Actually, the explanation might be much simpler. Some 911 systems are triggered to pick up automatically for a 9-1-hangup in case the caller was cut off by the emergency. It happened to me just a few months ago--trying to call my girlfriend, forgot I wasn't at work. In my case, I received a call from the dispatcher about 10 seconds after I hung up asking if I had an emergency. It's quite possible that they either A) don't call back in your area or B) called back and got a busy signal and decided the phone might be off the hook.

I can't prove this, but Occam's razor leads me to favor my own explanation.

An interesting theory! (5.00 / 2) (#26)
by ip4noman on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:46:39 AM EST

You could be right. Either seems plausable. The one moral I would like to bring up is this: The phone companies should immediatly plan to to banish in-band signaling in our lifetimes.

It causes nastiness like this and great costs, perhaps in a case where emergency crews were called away on a false alarm and were unavailable for a real emergency, perhaps even loss of life.

I bet 15-20% of all 911 calls are misdials due to poor human factors conditions which have crept in to the system. The comment from the gentleman about dialing India for example.

--
Breaking Blue / Cognitive Liberty Airwaves
[ Parent ]
How the hell do you intend to do that? (5.00 / 2) (#54)
by tzanger on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:17:14 PM EST

The phone companies should immediatly plan to to banish in-band signaling in our lifetimes.

Um dude. Ain't gonna happen. In-band signalling includes DTMF. And if you're talking about trunks, it also includes ringtones, busy, and other signalling too.

What's your solution? Switch to ISDN? Yeah, right. Every phone, fax and modem in the nation will have to be upgraded. Or have some kind of conversion box installed. If you go the conversion box route that likely won't help becuase it has to translate the in-band 91<quick flash> sequence to the appropriate D-channel signalling. There are, of course, exchanges in which ISDN doesn't even exist (I live in one) so that means upgrading the even more infrastructure.

I dunno, I would think that a lot fewer than 15% of 911 calls are bogus. Perhaps closer to 1 to 2% which is a non-issue, especially compared to upgrading the entire nation's telephone network. I wouldn't mind having everything run on ISDN or VoIP-to-the-telco, talk about a great upgrade...



[ Parent ]
happened to my grandparents.... (4.75 / 4) (#9)
by jeffy124 on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:04:20 PM EST

my grandparents have had similar happen to them.

my home phone starts with "627-1xxx" At the time, my grandparents had pulse dialing and 911 had just been introduced into our area.

Somehow, when dialing, the 6 would get lost, the 2 7 would run together, 1 1. uh oh. They'd hear the phone start ringing and hangup, not know what happened. Pick up, redial, and get through ok. Few minutes later a cop shows up.

A few weeks later this same sequence occured again. Same officer showed up, and he figured out what was going on.

The solution relates to your problem - use touch tone. (unfortunately, getting your telco to upgrade on their side might be tough to do)
--
You're the straw that broke the camel's back!
Take your phone off pulse. (2.21 / 14) (#10)
by rebelcool on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:13:35 PM EST

Most phones that support pulse dialing (which is the 'rotary' you're referring to) have a switch for Tone dialing.

Unless you really are using a rotary phone. In that case, go buy a tone phone you cheap bastard.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Nope (4.20 / 5) (#11)
by MMcP on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:24:42 PM EST

That ain't how it works. Any phone in America, whether it is a pulse dial or not can dial through with pulse.
Try it! Pick up ANY phone and start tapping out the number you want (zero is ten taps).

[ Parent ]
Yes, that is how pulse works. (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by rebelcool on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:08:06 PM EST

Pulse is simply quickly on-off hooking. Many phones can switch between the 2 modes (with a switch located on the bottom, usually)

I believe most CO equipment (particularly the newer ones) should know better than to interpret the pulse as a number. Perhaps as a flash or a normal off-hook status, but not a number if you've already tone-dialed.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

The switch on your phone has nothing to do with it (5.00 / 3) (#24)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:39:01 AM EST

Pulse is simply quickly on-off hooking. Many phones can switch between the 2 modes (with a switch located on the bottom, usually)

That switch only determines what happens when you press a number button. It has nothing to do with how the phone compamny equipment interprets a fast on-off hooking. It may be that newer phone company's equipment is better at recognizing an accidental on-off hooking, but it stll has to have the ability to interpret that style dialing whenever it is sent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

You are misunderstanding. (2.00 / 3) (#28)
by rebelcool on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:59:31 AM EST

I know how pulse works. Yes, the switch controls what happens when you push a number. Instead of sending a tone it instead quickly on/off hooks the phone the required number of times, which is what pulse dialing is.

Of course old rotory phones simply run a series of wipers on a spring loaded turn device which sends the proper on/off pulses at a fast enough rate.

What i'm saying is that if you enter a tone, then do a pulse, it shouldn't matter.

ie, You have a touch tone phone. You hit 5 then 3 then you accidentally on/off hook the phone. It should not interpret that as a number.

Many newer digital systems wont even recognize pulse dialing. Typically one way to tell if you've got a newer is if when the other line hangs up, is there a long pause before you get a dialtone. On the newer ones, almost the instant they hang up you should get a couple clicks and a dialtone..on an older system you may have deadline for many seconds while it waits to see if anything else comes across.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

A very logical argument. (5.00 / 2) (#46)
by trebuchet on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:30:58 AM EST

However, a simple experiment proves it wrong. Here is what I did:
1. Hook up a touch-tone and pulse dialing phone next to each other.
2. Take both phones off hook.
3. Dial the first 6 digits of a phone number on the touch tone phone.
4. Hang up the touch tone phone.
5. Dial the last number on the pulse dialing phone.
You should get through to whatever number you were dialing.
YMMV, of course.

Also, my phone provider, Bell Canada, has decided to support pulse dialing on all its switches. However, in Alberta (Canada), the phone company decided not to and just gave everyone touch tone phones.

[ Parent ]
It depends where you are. (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by rebelcool on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:51:34 AM EST

In Houston a few years ago the local CO upgraded its systems. Prior to this they sent out a letter telling people the date that they may have some troubles calling out and so on.

It also stated that pulse-dialed rotary phones would no longer work, and if you needed a touch-tone replacement to give them a call.

I noticed a few changes after this - most notably it went from 20 seconds of deadline after someone hung up to almost instant dialtone.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Universal pulse? (none / 0) (#63)
by phliar on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:19:13 PM EST

Any phone in America, whether it is a pulse dial or not can dial through with pulse.
Not necessarily. Pulse decoders are more expensive for the phone company (it takes longer to dial 10 digits with pulse than with DTMF, so a switch would need more pulse decoders than it would DTMF decoders) so they'd really like to get rid of them. A few years ago they tried to get me a "DTMF only" line (I forget what they called it) -- I refused, since being the geek I am I wanted to continue to use the old rotary telephones. (This was in the 408 area code -- in the SF Bay Area -- about six or seven years ago.)


Faster, faster, until the thrill of...
[ Parent ]

It's not the phone, it's the switch at the CO (5.00 / 4) (#13)
by ip4noman on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:28:40 PM EST

Yes, I have a touch tone phone. My phone is not the problem, It's a the Central Office.

There is equipment at your local Central Office (CO) which is loosly called the "switch". At your company, this might be called a "PBX".

This equipment still has to be able to make calls originated with old rotary phones, which worked by making pulses from a mechanical dial, which are identical to pulses you can make by depressing the phone's switchhook.



--
Breaking Blue / Cognitive Liberty Airwaves
[ Parent ]
Attention newbies and idiots: (1.63 / 11) (#29)
by rebelcool on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:01:44 AM EST

Normally I don't complain about this, but it is in poor form to rate a post a 1, unless its flame bait or just ridiculous.

Not to call newbies idiots, but please keep that in mind.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Well. (2.75 / 4) (#36)
by ambrosen on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 06:44:26 AM EST

The phrase "You cheap bastard" isn't exactly nice. You are also completely wrong about what's happening, which doesn't help.

--
Procrastination does not make you cool. Being cool makes you procrastinate. DesiredUsername.
[ Parent ]
Humor, heard of it? (2.50 / 4) (#45)
by rebelcool on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:27:27 AM EST

No, I suppose not.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Try dialling India (4.40 / 5) (#17)
by whatwasthatagain on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:53:15 PM EST

International code 91. Delhi's area code is 11. Just forget to dial the "011" required for long distance calls. Simple. This happens as a matter of *routine*, I believe.


--

With profound apologies to whomsoever this sig originally belonged.

Wow, that's amazing... (4.50 / 2) (#27)
by ip4noman on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:55:56 AM EST

I wonder if anyone has done studies on this? I know some cool people in Piscataway who would probably love to study this issue...

(love the recursive sig, BTW:)



--
Breaking Blue / Cognitive Liberty Airwaves
[ Parent ]
my girlfriend did something similar (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by ODiV on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:57:35 PM EST

My phone number ends in 0911. The flash button is right next to the 0 and she hit that instead.

--
[ odiv.net ]
Done it myself trying to order pizza - really (4.50 / 4) (#21)
by Smiling Dragon on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:12:56 PM EST

I've been connected to the emergency dispatcher while trying to order pizza - not kidding.

In New Zealand, emergency numbers are 111 and the pizza company I was trying is 0800 101 101. I'm guessing that the phone I was using had bad contacts in the 0 and 8 buttons.

Big surprise to get asked if I'd like fire, ambulance or police when I was expecting to be deciding between anchovies and olives.


-- Sometimes understanding is the booby prize - Neal Stephenson

future of delivery service (4.66 / 3) (#43)
by denzo on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:15:56 AM EST

It sounds like your pizza joints are ahead of their times... anybody wanting anchovies should be asked if they want fire, ambulance or police.

[ Parent ]
You're lucky (4.50 / 6) (#52)
by CokeBear on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:42:03 AM EST

Around here, pizza usually gets here faster than the police anyway.

[ Parent ]
Printing Errors (4.50 / 4) (#22)
by sholden on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:56:41 PM EST

Semi-relevant, is that a while ago Telstra (the 50% government owned phone company in Oz) made a printing error on their phone bills.

Making the first three digits of the phone number to call regarding the bill 000, which happens to be the emergency number over here.

Apparently lots of Australian are morons who either don't know the emergency number, or don't know how phone numbers work, or who just don't think before they dial, because enough called the number for it to be a problem.

I can't find a web reference, so I hope I wasn't dreaming...



--
The world's dullest web page


Heh! (5.00 / 2) (#72)
by Raena on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 07:21:42 AM EST

I've heard about that Telstra screwup before. Hee.

Which reminds me; I was calling a local radio station one day for one of those competitions where they play two seconds of a song and you have to be the xth caller in. The number is 1800 0-something-something... The lines were full. I'm pressing the cradle down with one finger and hitting redial with the other.

At once stage I must have hit redial too quickly and it missed the first two DTMF's stored. So the emergency operator picks up and says whatever greeting they say and I'm all excited that I got through and yell the name of the song into this poor woman's ear. Doy.
--
Top 10 reasons why I procrastinate
1.




[ Parent ]
Now, what was the name of the song? (none / 0) (#73)
by Tevi on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 09:01:38 AM EST

As long as it wasn't, MURDER... heehee.

[ Parent ]
In high school (1.33 / 12) (#23)
by suick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:14:11 AM EST

The phone numbers in my area were 916-XXXX. Which is one digit away from dialing 911. Why didn't I write a story about this? Because it's a stupid, stupid topic.

order in to with the will I around my effort sentences an i of more be fuck annoying.
Same thing happened to me (4.40 / 5) (#30)
by cyberformer on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:21:34 AM EST

Except it wasn't as dramatic, because I didn't have 3-way calling: the cops just called me, instead of paying me a visit. They asked quite a few questions, too, I guess to satisfy themselves that I hadn't just murdered whoever made the call.

This kind of mistake is why the emergency number begins with "9", rather than being just "1-1-1-" ("1" being the fastest number to dial using the old rotary dial phones, and "9" being the slowest).

Many years ago, I was in an ATM lobby that had a (touch-tone) phone with all the keys except "9" and "1" removed, presumably so that people could call the police if they were robbed. As a drunken experiment, I tried "dialing" a long-distance number by rapidly hitting the phone's hook the correct number of times for each digit, with about a one-second interval between each sequence. It worked --- though it probably wasn't a good idea, given that the bank also had a security camera watching me and that I was easily traceable through the ATM card I'd just used.

You never know ... (4.40 / 5) (#33)
by Ranieri on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:55:49 AM EST

Except it wasn't as dramatic, because I didn't have 3-way calling: the cops just called me, instead of paying me a visit. They asked quite a few questions, too, I guess to satisfy themselves that I hadn't just murdered whoever made the call.

I'm not planning to undertake any drastic action that will lead to the untimely demise of anyone at the present time. However, life can take strange turns, so it might be a good idea to sollicit this information and store it somewhere in the back of my brain for later retrieval.

What do the police ask you exactly to make sure you did not murder whoever placed the emergency call?
What answers did you give that made it plausible you didn't?
--
"Look, Hoagie, it's a hamster! Just what I need for dissection lab tomorrow!"
[ Parent ]

My culprit was toes. (3.50 / 2) (#32)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:53:47 AM EST

Despite being absurd, this is what happened:

A freind and I were discussing the fact that our feet were abnormally prehensile. We were holding things in our toes and tugging on things and... well, he finally decided to show off by dialling the phone.

Of course, he decided to dail ANI, which was 6-1-1 at the time... of course he misdialled, but he hung up the phone before he realized what was going on.

We got a call back, explaining that the fuzz would have to show up... which was fine, but I'm annoyed by the fact that they didn't even ask to come in... they couldn't see a thing, so they wouldn't actually know if anything was actually wrong.

farq will not be coming back
Dialing too fast (none / 0) (#35)
by ggeens on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:34:52 AM EST

When we were young, my brother wanted to pull a prank on me. He said: "I'm not afraid to call the emergency number."

Actually, he wanted to call the time service (1200), while pretending to call the emergency (100). While I was watching, he dialed the numbers: 1 20 (fast - hoping I wouldn't see the 2) 0.

The result: I noticed how he pressed all 4 numbers, but the telephone failed to send the '2'. So my brother was startled by the response from the dispatcher, and he had to explain what was going on.


L'enfer, c'est les huîtres.


[ Parent ]
comp.risks (4.00 / 5) (#37)
by Renegade Lisp on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:43:39 AM EST

This would make an excellent article for the comp.risks forum run by Peter G. Neumann. You might want to submit it there; the e-mail address is risks@csl.sri.com.

Wow (1.13 / 29) (#39)
by premier on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:22:39 AM EST

I can't believe this stupid ass article got posted.

A sad commentary on the state of K5.

What (1.70 / 10) (#51)
by stungod42 on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:21:14 AM EST

I cant believe this stupid arse comment got posted

[ Parent ]
Same type of thing.. (4.25 / 4) (#40)
by Aphexian on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:25:33 AM EST

This happened at work once. A fellow tech was building a laptop for someone's home use. In order to test the connection to our dial-in lines, he dialed the number (as an outside line) and logged in as them. (Why anyone would test a modem is beyond me, but that's not the point.)

He set it up at work, so he had to enter 9, ###-#### to verify it. Well he decided to put it in the localization string instead of the dialing string, including the area code he was currently in.

As you can imagine, the person he was installing this for was outside our area code. When he visited the house he decided to show off the excellent system he had set up.

9, (set up prefix) 1 (we're in a new area code), 1 ###-####-#### (dial in server).

Not only is he an idiot, the cops were pretty pissed that he had called 911 approximately 15 times in under an hour. (Oh, it didn't work the first time... I'll try again!)

I've done a lot of crazy things, but war dialing 911 is not one of them.

Beliving in god is about as clever as beliving in the easter bunny. Hong Kong Phooey

Wardialing (4.00 / 7) (#41)
by farmgeek on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:03:40 AM EST

Ihad something similar happen (long ago) when I was war dialing looking for local BBSes.

I set up the war dialer to dial all the numbers in one of our local exchanges (xxx-0000 through xxx-9999). As it turns out, in this exchange dialing xxx-0911 was the same as dialing 911.

So I had the cops show up at 3am. I quickly explained to them and my parents that there was apparantly some sort of power surge, causing the modem to begin randomly dialing.

Fortunately, this was before most people had any experience with computers and they bought it without question.

'Blacklist' 911 if you ever want to wardial! (none / 0) (#79)
by QuietRiot on Sun May 05, 2002 at 02:37:13 PM EST

Probably back around the same time, I had dnloaded a wardialer from a local BBS.  I set it up to run a few nights out of the week, when my parents were asleep, etc. (as were all the innocent people my computer would inevitably call)

Anyway, by blacklisting the '9-1-1' sequence I somehow stumbled upon a local loop.  I was looking through the logs of all the numbers collected and found 2 numbers, that when you called each one, would connect.

This is great for giving someone a number to call you at without giving them your real number.  If you know when they are going to call, just call up one side of the loop and have them call the other.  You are connected at the CO, and your number stays private.

[ Parent ]

Doesn't this make you scum? (none / 0) (#82)
by coljac on Tue Nov 12, 2002 at 11:38:24 PM EST

If this happened at 3am, does this mean you were randomly/systematically dialling people's phones in the middle of the night looking for a modem handshake? If so, it's shame the cops didn't work you over.

---
Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]
Mobile phones (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by Khendon on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:10:43 AM EST

I've dialled 999 by accident a few times on my mobile phone because of the stupid "feature" that you can dial 999 or 112 (the two emergency numbers here in the UK) even when the keypad is locked.

The fun part is... (4.00 / 2) (#49)
by Ubiq on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:17:33 AM EST

that that feature makes it more likely to accidentally dial 112 because the other digits are blocked. That means that if a bunch of keys are pressed while the mobile phone is locked, the thing neatly greps a "112" sequence out of it and starts dialing. If it would reset the attempt when another digit was pressed, there would be no problem.



[ Parent ]
What kind of phone? (3.50 / 2) (#50)
by Khendon on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:21:01 AM EST

You must have a *really* brain-dead phone, then - my nokia (the One True Mobile Phone Manufacturer) isn't quite that bad, and does indeed reset the attempt if another digit is pressed.

[ Parent ]
Emergency numbers and mobiles (4.00 / 1) (#53)
by nic0 on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:47:27 AM EST

I use an Ericsson T68 and it is incredibly prone to dialling emergency numbers. The phone obtains the local emergency numbers from the cell when it first connects. When I was in the US it knew 911 was the emergency number and locked the keypad appropriately. In the UK you have two three-digit numbers and I'm sure this along with having the same key to dial one of those numbers increases the likelihood of inadvertantly dialling it.

The T68 has the same behaviour as the Nokia, too, insofar as it ONLY accepts 999 or 112 - if you misdial the emergency number you have to start again. I know the Emergency Services here are struggling under the load of accidental calls and there must be a point at which you save more lives by locking keypads properly rather than allowing the few unfamiliar with phones to easily make an emergency call.

(And Nokia *were* the one true mobile manufacturer until the T68 :) )



[ Parent ]
Happened to me too (none / 0) (#74)
by jbrw on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 12:16:48 PM EST

I was walking along one day when my mobile rang and a voice said something like "This is the Emergency Dispatcher. We have received a muffled emergency call from this number. Is there an emergency?". Ofcourse, there wasn't.

The woman explained that mobiles can call emergency numbers even with the keypad locked. I started to apologise profusely, but she said it happened all the time, and cut me off to go deal with more important matters.

Same thing happened to a friend just recently...

Still, i've had reason to call the emergency services about 5 times. Living in the inner-city means I see lots of shit go down, and i'm just such a goddam responsible citizen that i'm straight on the phone. I make myself sick.
---
"We beat the .usians at their own game of zero tolerance"
[ Parent ]

911 from work. (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by watchmaker on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:17:07 AM EST

I've done this. From work. Our PBX throws 911 through to the 911 dispatcher. 90% of the people I call during my job are long distance. Most calls I make start with 9-1.

One day I dialed someone in indianapolis. 9-1-317...

I heard "911 emergency." Apparently I'd fat fingered the 1. Fun. No axe wielding authorities though.

(Though once, at a former job at the office portion of a bank, an employee was fired, and tripped the silent alarm on her way out the door out of spite. We got a full contingent of city and county police swarming the parking lot. Someone knocked on the back door, which we used to go take our breaks, and a coworker, oblivious, went to open it, only to be staring down the barrel of a police issue pistol. The fired person was charged with malicious mischief and filing a false report and was fined like $10,000)

9-1-1 (none / 0) (#67)
by defeated on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:48:22 PM EST

So, you don't have to dial 9-9-1-1 to reach 911? What happens if you have to make an international call?

[ Parent ]
D'oh, nevermind... (none / 0) (#68)
by defeated on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:54:40 PM EST

Maybe you just dial 0 first:)

[ Parent ]
We had our workplace staked out by the cops... (5.00 / 2) (#55)
by SIGFPE on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:32:21 PM EST

...for a similar reason. Can't remember the details but one of our managerial types, not too smart, kept dialing 9 for an outside line followed by 11 because he was trying to dial internationally. Anyway, the dialing pattern tipped off the police that we were in some kind of siege situation and a whole bunch of cop cars surrounded the place.
SIGFPE
This happened to me, sort of (4.50 / 6) (#56)
by barooo on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:40:31 PM EST

I live in Kansas City, which is on a state line. The Missouri side (my apartment) is 816 area code, the Kansas side is 913. Many numbers across the state line are still local, and you don't dial 1 for these calls, so to call the office, or my cell phone, or my girlfriend's cell phone from home I dial 913-xxx-xxxx without a 1.

One night, I was really tired and was going to call her cell phone and accidentally dialed 9113-whatever, and again, being half asleep, HUNG UP when I heard the "911 emergency..." greeting. As soon as I hung up, I knew that I shouldn't have, that I should have explained that it was a misdial. I'm sitting there trying to work up the nerve to call 911 again and explain what happened, when they called me back. They took my explanation at face value (I'd imagine that KCMO has the highest incidence of misdialed 911 calls in the country), and didn't send over the troops.

In retrospect, I think it's dumb that they called me back. I was told (at my old job) that hangup calls to 911 are treated as a silent alarm, since you might have been forced to hang up to avoid being detected by the bad guys. It'd be pretty easy to surreptitiously dial 911 and hang up, even if the bad guys are in the room watching. If I'm hiding in the closet waiting for the cops to show up and arrest the people who've broken into my house, I don't want them to call me and alert the criminals to my presence. More than likely, they'd run away, but they might freak out and escalate the situation.


--
One more drink, and I'll move on
"Grace is Gone", Dave Matthews Band
Correct procedure (none / 0) (#78)
by Mitheral on Tue Apr 30, 2002 at 02:49:50 PM EST

You were miss informed at your old job. The correct procedure would be to dial 911 then leave the call open. Troops will be dispached. They assume, correctly, that you can not speak for what ever reason - armed robbery, mute, having stroke, fallen/can't get up, etc. And it is really easy to do. For example in my office I'd mute the speaker volume; press the speak phone button to get (silent) dial tone; and then dial 911. Five viturally unnoticeable key presses and the posse is on the way.

[ Parent ]
sort of related (none / 0) (#59)
by damiam on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:49:12 PM EST

Someone once asked me for my number, and I didn't particularly want to give it to them, so I jokingly said "911-3057" (or something like that). Not only did they belive me, they actually went and called that number, and when 911 picked up, they just said "Oh crap" and hung up.

Luckily, 911 called back to clarify, instead of just sending out the troops.

Happened here too! (none / 0) (#81)
by ScrO on Wed May 22, 2002 at 07:36:27 PM EST

I had a co-worker who didn't want anyone to know her phone number, so when she was on vacation she put a similar number in her cube "911-8374" or something. And the Marketing dolts actually called it. (=

ScrO!

[ Parent ]

rotary-dial (5.00 / 9) (#60)
by btb on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:50:37 PM EST

The next piece of the puzzle is that nearly all telecom switches still maintain a rotary-dial compatibility mode. Yes, you can actually dial a number by depressing the switch-hook repeatedly; I've done it. Be careful though, timing is critical, and nines and zeros are a bitch!

That's why, if you're ever need to make an outgoing call, and you're stuck with a "courtesy phone" that has no dial or buttons, just hit the switch ten times (for "0") - then you'll get an operator, and you can have the operator place the call for you...

Movie Lore (none / 0) (#77)
by Mitheral on Tue Apr 30, 2002 at 02:41:08 PM EST

One of the few bits they got right in that hillarious movie HACKERS. Phantom Phreak is incarcerated and they give him one call (which the guard dials and then locks the number pad up). He hangs up imediately and then connects to the operator.

[ Parent ]
DTMF and Pulse decoders (none / 0) (#62)
by phliar on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:11:28 PM EST

If your phone is using DTMF (tones instead of make/break pulses) this should not happen -- when the switch hooks up the DTMF decoder to your call, it shouldn't then be listening to pulses; the DTMF decoder and the old-style crossbar decoder are different devices. I believe this is true for the AT&T 5ESS switch but may be not for the other switches.

(Of course the paragraph above could all be shit -- it's been many years since I've had to do any telephony.)


Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

When I was a young'un (none / 0) (#66)
by xrayspx on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:48:16 PM EST

7ESS was hitting in a big way, and I believe many, if not most, systems are using it. Not that I know whether it blocks hook flashes after it recieves a DTMF. I think I still have Knight Lightnings' 7ESS + 911 working document that got him busted by Bellcore and put Phrack in jeapardy. I'll have to look.

Are most systems still on 5ESS? I know that the area I used to live in was on 7ESS almost immediately.


"I see one maggot, it all gets thrown away" -- My Wife
[ Parent ]
Cell phone (none / 0) (#64)
by hackerhue on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:19:59 PM EST

My mom had a (company) cell phone whose number 991-1xxx. When people from the office tried to phone her, they would sometimes forget to dial another 9 for an outside line. Oops. She told her boss about the problem, but they wouldn't give her another number. She was working for the phone company at the time.

Another incident: one of my phone liness was on the fritz once -- I think the wiring got messed up -- and started sending random pulses. I guess some of the pulses got decoded to 911; a cop showed up at our door asking if everything was alright.

BMW drivers beware (4.33 / 3) (#65)
by levsen on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:48:34 PM EST

Had the opportunity to test-drive a BMW 7 series the other day. This is one fat-ass car loaded with heaps of junk. (Ok I make the junk for a living but I don't design it.) So the thing had lots of neat buttons including 7 on each seat just for each seat's heating and ventilation options. So I and my codriver start pushing buttons like kids. Want to open the sunroof. Hm there is a button next to the sunroof must be that one. 911 dispatcher sounds out of the speaker system. Hm. Ooops. The sunroof button is on the left of the sunroof, the one on the right is labeled SOS and calls 911.

The newer models now have a plastic cap that needs to be removed before you can press it.


This comment is printed on 100% recycled electrons.

Watch you emergency pages... (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by xrayspx on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:58:14 PM EST

When I was working at a very small startup .com and we bought our first decent UPS with email notification, I ran into what I'm sure is a common problem.

We had the APC running for a few weeks, and a generator about 75 feet away. The boss went on vacation, and I was happily adminning. Until the hurricane came. I hadn't made the cable to go from the generator to the APC yet.

Ran through the rain to the hardware store and bought 75' of romex, two ends, got the cable going, and then went to setting up our software to alert me when the power went out. This was in the days before alphanumeric pagers were widely available, and in any case, I was assuming the T1 was down if we had a power problem, so I used an internal modem in one of the servers with a separate line to alert me. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

To test the system, I unplugged the UPS. The modem in our server dialled my pager number, immediately hit 911, I didn't get paged. Not enough commas (waits) after the phone number. (603)xxx-xxxx,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,911 was long enough to dial, have the pager co. answer, and then dial the 'emergency page'. Unfortunately, I ended up calling 911 about 15 times in the meantime. Cops, 911 operators, Firefighters, whole 9 yards were calling me.

Man they were pissed. I changed the code to 119. After the work of building the cable, dealing with pissed off emergency personnel, tuning the APC to accept the very very not clean power put out by our gas powered POS generator, and the power NEVER FRIGGIN WENT OFF. Oh well, Be Prepared I guess.


"I see one maggot, it all gets thrown away" -- My Wife
Watch you emergency pages... (4.60 / 5) (#70)
by xrayspx on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:58:24 PM EST

When I was working at a very small startup .com and we bought our first decent UPS with email notification, I ran into what I'm sure is a common problem.

We had the APC running for a few weeks, and a generator about 75 feet away. The boss went on vacation, and I was happily adminning. Until the hurricane came. I hadn't made the cable to go from the generator to the APC yet.

Ran through the rain to the hardware store and bought 75' of romex, two ends, got the cable going, and then went to setting up our software to alert me when the power went out. This was in the days before alphanumeric pagers were widely available, and in any case, I was assuming the T1 was down if we had a power problem, so I used an internal modem in one of the servers with a separate line to alert me. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

To test the system, I unplugged the UPS. The modem in our server dialled my pager number, immediately hit 911, I didn't get paged. Not enough commas (waits) after the phone number. (603)xxx-xxxx,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,911 was long enough to dial, have the pager co. answer, and then dial the 'emergency page'. Unfortunately, I ended up calling 911 about 15 times in the meantime. Cops, 911 operators, Firefighters, whole 9 yards were calling me.

Man they were pissed. I changed the code to 119. After the work of building the cable, dealing with pissed off emergency personnel, tuning the APC to accept the very very not clean power put out by our gas powered POS generator, and the power NEVER FRIGGIN WENT OFF. Oh well, Be Prepared I guess.


"I see one maggot, it all gets thrown away" -- My Wife
-1!!!! (1.75 / 4) (#71)
by EricHeinz on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:19:52 AM EST

Hey man, your story is way too US centric. And can anyone say DIARY???

jk, i woulda voted it up but i missed it in the queue.


sha boom boom
Sounds like mis-dialing 911 is a big problem. (2.00 / 1) (#76)
by static on Sun Apr 28, 2002 at 07:03:55 AM EST

Although some blame could be laid at the PABX manufacturers for using 9 as a dial-out number. And I guess AT&T could take some blame for also using 1 as a long-distanced prefix.

In Australia, the emergency number is 000. Bizarrely enough, PABXs here tend to use 0 to dial-out. And our long-distance prefix is 0! Perhaps AU and US need to swap emergency numbers or something...

Wade.

Also... (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by Captain_Tenille on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:43:47 PM EST

sometimes old cordless phones, when their batteries were running down, will dial random numbers. Occasionally, 911 is one of them. Don't forget cats either.
----
/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Man Vs. Nature: The Road to Victory!

Accidental 9-1-1 call: How it happened | 82 comments (70 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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