Sergeant Tony O’Meara says unnecessary triple-0 calls are wasting precious emergency response time.
Sergeant Tony O’Meara says unnecessary triple-0 calls are wasting precious emergency response time. Sarah Harvey

Prank 000 calls endanger lives

DEALING with difficult crossword answers and stolen wheelie bins is not meant to be part of a day’s work for those who answer emergency calls.

But pest callers, from the innocent or confused to the malicious, are a daily burden on the Ipswich police communications centre.

Ipswich communications coordinator Sergeant Greg Smith said non-emergency calls could account for as much as 20 per cent of all triple-0 calls directed to the Yamanto-based communications room on any given day.

He said the majority of those were from people who, rather than trying to make trouble, were of the genuine belief they were in an emergency situation.

“To the person ringing, it may be an emergency. But in the overall scheme of things it often isn’t,” Sgt Smith said.

“The reason for that is that people often panic when they find themselves in a bad situation.

“Let’s say you come home to find your house broken into.

“You know you need to ring the police and the first number that comes into your head is triple-0.”

Perhaps the most bizarre, although not necessarily malicious, story of the abuse of the triple-0 service in Ipswich was when a girl rang up asking for the answer to a crossword question.

Another man called triple-0 claiming people were throwing rocks on his roof, only to realise that the sound he was hearing was that of his tin roof contracting in the heat of the sun.

In one instance a man rang triple-0 twice to say that he missed his train from Ipswich and wanted a lift to Logan.

When he realised police would not help him he rang Queensland Ambulance Service for a lift, telling them his drink was spiked.

He was subsequently given a lift to the Ipswich watchhouse.

Some of the anecdotes are funny, at least in hindsight, but precious minutes are wasted dealing with non-emergency calls while those who are in genuinely dangerous situations are being forced to wait in the queue.

“Every call we shouldn’t be receiving takes roughly two minutes to deal with,” Sgt Smith said.

“This might sound insignificant, but that is two minutes where we can’t answer a legitimate complaint or monitor the police radio for other urgent calls for help.”

Communications room staff will often provide the caller with the number for the nearest police station and advise them not to call triple-0 unless the situation is time critical.

Time critical is a phrase used by police and other emergency services to describe any situation that requires immediate attention, such as a life or death situation, a serious crime in progress or a sudden death.

Police ask for the use of commonsense but acknowledge that commonsense occasionally goes out the window when people are left to deal with stressful situations.

Ipswich’s communications room has 13 telephone lines ready to receive triple-0 calls.

On most of the busy shifts, six staff will operate the lines in addition to the communications room coordinator.

Any missed calls are redirected to Toowoomba, then Brisbane, where operators will take the caller’s instructions before contacting Ipswich and repeating the information.

This process eats up more precious emergency response time.

Police station numbers: Ipswich 3813 8777, Yamanto 3817 1333, Goodna 3436 2999, Karana Downs 3813 2900, Boonah 5463 3999, Rosewood 5464 2555, Laidley 5466 8000, Gatton 5462 1022, Esk 5424 1100, Lowood 5426 1108.

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