Friday, November 06, 2009

6 NOV 09: 911 LOL

The news from Fort Hood, Texas Thursday was shocking and sad -- certainly nothing to joke about. So I was pleased to see the late-night news went ahead with a special report on local emergency hotlines. Strange as it may sound, some calls to 911 really should be dialed 5-6-5 - the numbers for "LOL."

The WTVM report on "911 Emergency Stupidity" borrowed from a Jay Leno feature on "The Most Ridiculous 911 Calls Ever Made." Many of the recorded calls were taken by operators in Columbus and Auburn. Since each city has only one university, the number of stupid callers in Columbus should be about four times as high.

An Auburn 911 operator said about 60 percent of the incoming calls are NOT real emergencies. They involve people asking for information, or simply sounding weird. And we're approaching the time of year when 911 is a much easier number to remember than the one for Safety Cab.

The promotional ad for the special report had a call to Columbus 911 from a man who claimed he "just stepped off a spaceship in Florida." And for some reason, he did NOT want to report to the staff at the Space Science Center.

The supposed spaceship rider in Florida claimed he had traveled to parts of Asia, Africa and Mexico. Why you dial Columbus 911 from the middle of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center, I have no idea....

Another recording in the report had what sounded like an older woman. She asked Columbus 911 to recommend a drugstore which was open after 7:00 p.m. Really now - do all the Walgreens pharmacists dream of being bankers, and keep their hours?

Some people apparently also call the 911 center to get the phone number for the Muscogee County Jail. I can understand this a little, since both departments have a role in public safety -- but compared with ambulance workers, the jail can seem at times like a loony cousin.

Then there's the man who dialed 911 to report problems with other phone calls he made - to a 24-hour "sex talk" line. This case could be worse, of course. If he called from certain nightclubs on Victory Drive, he might have been subject to arrest.

We've shared stories from time to time here about unusual Columbus 911 centers. A man once told us he asked for police assistance with a wrong chicken order, so things wouldn't get out of hand [6 Feb 06]. It turns out the man had mental health problems - so this was a bit like calling firefighters to talk you out of committing arson.

But by playing tapes of ridiculous 911 calls, TV stations may be asking for trouble - because viewers may stop calling 911 and start dialing newsrooms instead. We've taken plenty of curious calls there over the years [9 Sep]. But the news departments bring it on themselves. Sometimes reporters act like they know more than everybody else -- and even show off seals to prove it.

(One afternoon I took a call from a man asking for the speed of light. He was disappointed and dissatisfied when I rounded off the number to the nearest thousand miles per second.)

I have a theory about why people dial 911 or the TV stations for phone numbers. A call to directory assistance costs extra money, while a call elsewhere doesn't. But why don't those callers have one of those telephone directories we mentioned the other day? Have they doodled over all the listings, while chatting with their friends?

In the Internet age, you'd think the number of 911 callers asking for ordinary information would go down. People can "Google" for the answers, after all. But I suspect these curious calls come from people who don't have computers - and even though they can't read this blog, I still will not call them names.

There's an old-fashioned information source that many people seemingly forget to call. It's the reference desk at the public library. Workers there are surrounded by all sorts of books - while some TV newsrooms do well to have a dictionary sitting in plain sight on a desk.

By the way, public safety workers can encounter stupidity without taking phone calls. Did you hear about the man Morgan County, Alabama deputies stopped last weekend? He reportedly climbed out of a vehicle and declared, "I just stole this truck." Truly alcohol is the world's leading truth serum....

Now let's get caught up on some news items from the last couple of days:

+ Pam Fair with the Columbus Health Department told WTVM her agency now has a "flu operator." Uh-oh -- we should explain something to those silly 911 callers. You CANNOT reach the flu operator by dialing H-1-N-1.

(Shouldn't the Health Department prepare a special commercial promoting the flu operator? It could bring Sade out of hiding - since the swine flu truly is "coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago.... across the north, and south to Key Largo.")

+ The Columbus Chamber of Commerce held a seminar on small retail businesses. Speaker Cinda Baxter promoted something called "The 3/50 Project." I never heard exactly what that meant - but if stores want to sell everything for $3.50, I'm in favor of it.

+ Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said he's working on developing a city-run cable and Internet service, to compete with Charter's high prices. I've heard similar complaints from Phenix City - except the city supposedly gave Cable TV of East Alabama a 99-year exclusive contract to use city lines.

+ On the other hand, Alabama Gas Company filed notice with the state that residential prices will go down. This should have a ripple effect on the state's economy - because this obviously means we'll have a warm winter, with more visits from cold Northern tourists.

+ Hardaway was humbled by Macon Westside in high school football 22-17. It appears the only way the Hawks can make the playoffs is by getting through a "mini-game" next Monday. Aw c'mon - either play the entire "arena football" season indoors, or not at all.

+ Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson told reporters he will NOT allow the Yellow Jackets to wear all-yellow uniforms. Johnson explained he doesn't want players looking like "giant french fries." Especially if it gets Georgia players thinking about adding "ketchup" on top -- as in their red helmets.

+ Instant Message to O'Reilly Auto Parts on Veterans Parkway: What's that thing with the sale price you posted along the road? I mean, what's a "PB Blaster?" Can't you simply spread peanut butter on sandwich bread?

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