PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Tuesday's magnitude 4.0 earthquake triggered a wave of 911 calls, not from people seeking emergency assistance, but looking for information.
"What happens in some of these instances, like the earthquake the other day, power outages, and usually the first good snowstorm of the year, we start getting a lot of calls into the dispatch center that are not emergency calls," explained Robb Couture, a lieutenant with the South Portland Fire Department. "What happens is those calls very quickly back-up, and people who are calling with actual emergencies may have to wait to have their calls answered."
The Emergency Communications Center in Portland, which dispatches fire, police and medical personnel for Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, received over 170 calls in about a half hour after the earthquake struck, making it nearly impossible for anyone with an emergency to get through without a lengthy wait.
"That 172 calls represents a little over half of our calls that we would get in a day," stated Tom Cavanaugh, the center's director. "So that is a significant spike."
"We don't want to be in a situation where somebody called and couldn't get an answer," he added. "So we need people to help us and call when it is truly an emergency and call the non-emergency lines when it is not an emergency."
Lt. Couture says people should consider their situation carefully before calling 911.
"We don't want to discourage people from calling 911 for emergencies, that's what the number is there for, that's what we're here for," he said. "The difference I guess is the severity of what they are calling for, and obviously the earthquake was an upsetting event for folks and they were looking for information. 911 is not the place to get that information, it is a place to report an emergency or a life threatening event that needs to be dealt with immediately."