My husband and I were out in Laie last week, enjoying a few days vacation at the beach, when I got an alarmed call from my neighbor saying there were six police cars in my yard.
My neighbor, Rich Wyckoff, says the police officers were professional and polite; one officer took the time to tell him what was going on. The officer said HPD had received what they call a dropped 911 call from our house, meaning a phone call came into police communications with no caller on the other end.
When police dispatchers get dropped calls, they say they always phone back to speak to the homeowner to ask if he or she made the call and to determine the nature of the emergency.
When no one answers at the home where the 911 call originated, HPD routinely sends multiple units to investigate because of the possibility that crime might be underway in the home: a homeowner could have been murdered or be in a hostage situation or suffering medical emergency.
The weird part was nobody was home when the 911 call was made from our landline. As I mentioned, we were in Laie. And our house sitter told us later that he had been out for dinner with friends.
Multiple units came to our house, eight officers in six cars. My neighbor was startled when he looked over the fence to see the police officers walking with flashlights around the perimeter of our house before they entered a side door my husband had accidentally left unlocked before we left for Laie.
One of the officers told me later that they filed into our dark kitchen with their guns drawn, I imagine just like Danno and Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0. Walking room to room in search of possible criminal activity. I wondered if they yelled “Clear” after they passed through each hallway like McGarrett always does in Hawaii Five-0.
The officers left after they found everything in order.
The whole thing was so mysterious. How does a 911 call emanate from a house when nobody is home?
When I got home from Laie, I called police dispatch to get more information. The dispatcher told me they had been getting a bunch of such ghost calls lately and that, amazingly, one of the dropped 911 calls had even come from a landline at a house where the owner told HPD she had terminated her landline phone service months ago.
I dismissed the incident at our house as aberrant, that is, until two days later when HPD dispatch called me at about 11:30 p.m. to say it had received another 911 call from our landline. Again, nobody in our house had made a 911 call.
This time there was no need for the police to respond after I assured the dispatcher that everything was fine.
I thanked the dispatcher and asked her to please thank the police officers for their professional efforts when they came to check out the first dropped 911 calls from our house.
Then four days later on Oct. 27, police were summoned to our street again by a dropped 911 call. This time responding police said the 911 call came from another house on the block. This neighbor also was not at home when the call was made. Police left after finding nothing suspicious at the neighbor’s house.
Police dispatch advised me to call the phone company to find out why our landline was spontaneously making 911 calls.
Here is what I found out after a Hawaiian Telcom technician came to check out the problem.
The repairman discovered that when our phone line was converted from copper wires to fiber optic, the phone company forgot to sever the old copper connection.
The phone company says the copper wires may have shorted because of dampness and condensation. When moisture gets into copper wires the resulting electrical short can send out pulses to the telephone company’s central exchange, which can kick off 911 calls. I know that sounds weird but Hawaiian Telcom says it happens.
The repairman disconnected the old copper connection and we have been free of phantom 911 calls ever since.
Maj. Allan Nagata, commander of the police communications division, in an emailed response says there has been an increase in the number of dropped 911 calls at HPD. Statistics he sent show an almost 40 percent increase from 2013 to 2014.
Statistics from the first nine months of this year, show that HPD has been responding to an average 12,152 phantom 911 calls a month.
Police say most of the dropped calls come from misdials from mobile phones or the so-called cellphone “pocket” or “butt calls.”
HPD says dropped or misdialed 911 calls make up about 10 percent to 15 percent of all 911 calls.
Hawaiian Telcom says the phone company doesn’t keep stats on dropped 911 calls.
Major Nagata says dropped 911 calls drain important HPD resources and take away valuable time that police officers need to respond to legitimate emergencies.
“It is important to respond to the dropped calls because it may be an emergency situation where the caller is unable to communicate but needs first responder assistance,” Nagata says.
Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman Ann Nishida was unable to tell me if there has been an increase in dropped 911 calls from Hawaiian Telcom landlines because of dampness affecting copper telephone wires from the recent heavy rains on Oahu.
Nishida says the phone company’s job is to deliver 911 calls but not to keep statistics on dropped calls. “We don’t track these types of calls,” she says.
I asked HPD if the communication division had any helpful advice to try to reduce number of phantom 911 calls the police have been receiving,
Major Nagata said, “We ask parents to teach their children to dial 911 for emergencies, but not as pranks or to test the system.”
My own advice to Hawaiian Telcom is to tell its technicians to be sure to disconnect the copper lines each time they convert a customer’s landline from copper to fiber optic.
My only regret is that I was not there as a fly on the wall to watch the HPD officers file through every room in our house in the dark with their guns drawn just like in “Hawaii Five-0.” Clear, Danno. And thanks again officers for your sincere efforts to protect us.