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9-1-1 Dispatchers Flooded With Non-Emergency Calls During Power Outage

Residents Ask For Basic Information and Supplies


Scores of Santa Barbara residents seemed to forget or disregard the legitimate reasons for calling 9-1-1 during Sunday night’s power outage that affected much of North County and other large sections of the Central Coast. Approximately 150,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers — from Solvang to Atascadero — lost power at around 9:30 p.m. due to a “flash” at a Morro Bay sub-station, but electricity was almost fully restored by 2 a.m.

In that time, 90 percent of calls made to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s dispatch office were for non-emergencies, said Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover. People dialed 9-1-1 asking why the power was out and when it would be restored. Several asked for flashlights. One caller requested help finding his or her candles. Hoover said there were no reports of looting, but that several residents called with concern about oxygen tanks that require power.

“We want to remind residents that 9-1-1 is not 4-1-1 information and that you should not be calling 9-1-1, especially during a crisis, unless you have a legitimate emergency,” Hoover said in an email. “For every call a dispatcher takes that is a non-emergency, they are possibly being kept from helping someone who truly is in trouble.” Hoover explained the outage was a good reminder to prepare for a sudden loss of electricity by keeping batteries, a battery powered radio, candles, and matches handy.

“Also, keep in mind you may be able to use your car radio or your cell phone if it has Internet access as a way to get information,” she said. “If you do have medical supplies or machines that require power to operate, make sure to have a back-up plan and know how your system operates in case there is an outage.”

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