SEATTLE -- King County dispatchers are launching a new public awareness campaign to try and prevent accidental calls to 911.

The King County E-911 program office now says 1-in-5 calls are accidental, and in most cases, they are so-called pocket dials that tie up the phone lines.

Dispatchers say these calls are diverting their attention because protocol requires them to stay on the line to ensure the call is an accident and not someone in distress. If a caller hangs up, dispatchers are required to call back and investigate to make sure the person is safe.

"We have to listen and say, 'OK. I hear them in the background,' or 'Are they singing in their car?'", said Kayreen Lum, E-911 Program Manager. "And if it's just a kid playing with the phone, those we have to sit on for a while."

Lum says if they can decrease the number of accidental calls, they could cut down on real 911 callers encountering busy signals.

Officials provide a few tips to prevent an accidental 911 call:

  • Lock your phone when not in use
  • Put it somewhere it cannot be bumped
  • Supervise your child if they are playing with your cell phone