The Sarnia Police Service has received nearly 400 911 calls from the same cellphone number since Dec. 25.
Police say the phone is most likely a Rogers customer and has no SIM card.
Police have a theory that someone received a new phone for Christmas and passed their old one off to their child without realizing that a 911 call can still be made on a cellphone with no SIM card or even no service.
Sarnia police spokesperson Cst. Heather Emmons said the calls are taxing the 911 operators.
“Our communications personnel do not hang up. They stay on the line until the call is over. It’s the person on the other end who is disconnecting the call,” Emmons said. “These are very short-lived, less than a minute long.”
The Sarnia Police Service is unable to obtain any subscriber information on the phone but is able to identify a location which is within a one-kilometer radius of Wellington and Stuart streets.
When the police communication centre answers the call, there is a garbled message. Operators believe the caller could be a small child or possibly someone with a disability.
"We hate to think this is someone who has been in distress and is really calling for help. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to respond," Emmons said.
The 911 call centre has received calls every day since Christmas Day. In total, 361 calls have been placed, 58 of them in on one day.
Police have determined the calls originate near the marker on the Google map below.
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Emmons said old and used cellphones "present a bit of a Catch-22." They could create problems but also provide a service when it's needed.
"You never know when someone may need 911," Emmons said. "The majority of people know what 911 is for. If you have access to any phone and it’s alive you can call 911 because you really do need help."
Vancouver police donate cellphones
In December, the Vancouver Police Department and the Portland Hotel Society launched a program where donated cellphones still capable of dialing 911 are given to seniors who don't have access to 911.
Organizers are collecting working phones, but with the SIM cards removed, and chargers. The donated phones are checked to ensure all other contacts and dates have been erased.
“Many of us get new phones and don’t know what to do with our old ones,” Vancouver police Insp. Michelle Davey said in a media release. "We’re asking people to donate them and help these seniors not only feel safer, but be safer. A phone call to 911 could literally be somebody’s lifeline.”
Click on the Youtube video below to hear two examples of the 911 call placed to Sarnia police.