Recently I wrote a column that focused on abuses of the 911 system. This is one of my favorite topics. I am of the belief that should you call 911 to report that you didn’t get your fries at the fast-food window, you should be thrown in the clink. If that happened a few thousand times or so, maybe more people would think twice before acting like morons.

I received an interesting response to that column from Matt Siegel, a 29-year-veteran 911 telecommunicator in Chicago's North Shore suburbs who currently works for the Wilmette (Ill.) Police Department. He pointed out that the definition of what constitutes an actual emergency often is subjective. I suppose that’s true, and there is some value to the notion that it usually is better to err on the side of caution. Siegel also reminded me that some communities instruct their citizens to dial 911 whenever they need to talk to the police, usually in circumstances where the non-emergency call-takers aren’t available after business hours. OK, that makes some sense too. But I still have trouble with idea that running out of toilet paper in the facilities of a retail establishment constitutes an emergency.

All of that said, Siegel pointed out a problem that I hadn’t considered. He wrote that the majority of calls fielded by his public-safety answering point are either “false” calls, e.g., calls that are made by a child who got his hands on mommy’s or daddy’s cell phone and is playing with it, or “pocket” calls, those that are placed inadvertently when speed dial is activated.

That struck a real chord. I’ve done that — never to 911 fortunately —to names in my contact list. You’ve probably done it too. All it takes is a shifting of one’s weight when the phone is in one’s pocket.

According to Siegel, some research of the 911 calls that came into his center revealed that one person made more than 60 pocket calls. He wrote that one suggestion for solving this problem involves the carriers charging a fee every time 911 is called. Theoretically that would make people more careful. But the problem with such an approach, Siegel pointed out, is that such a penalty might make people more hesitant to dial 911, which could have tragic consequences should a true emergency be occurring.

A better approach, Siegel wrote, would be for the mobile phone manufacturers to eliminate emergency-mode speed dial as a function. For example, some cellphone models dial 911 if the "9" key is held down for a length of time. That idea makes a lot of sense to me. Choosing between having to exert a little extra effort when making a call and my local 911 center being overwhelmed by accidental emergency calls seems a no-brainer.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.