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Making anonymous prank calls is not a crime.  Most people do it once in a while.  The problem is when the wrong place is called for the wrong reasons.

Going by the record of prank or hoax calls the Health Help Centre received in a year, 200,000 calls, the centre set up in the capital city to help assist people in need is being misused.  There is fun and humour in prank or crank calling, but to call such an important centre for fun is not funny.

The centre is short of facilities. There is a limited response team and ambulances to cater to emergencies.  If they are tricked, just for fun, with ambulances, the caller seriously lacks a sense of humour.  The centre makes itself easily available; therefore they have a toll free hotline.  The phone cannot be kept busy because it is free or answering prank calls.  This could miss a real emergency situation.

Prank or crank calling is not new.  It happens everywhere.  In some countries, radio stations and internet radios broadcast prank calls because they are funny.  The internet is full of advice how to make prank phone calls.  But there is a limit.  For instance, if you call 911 in the United States, for reasons other than emergency, the caller could be charged for falsely reporting an incident, and a felony charge of improper use of government system could be levied.

This is because emergency response teams respond swiftly, with vehicles, choppers and ambulances racing to the scene, costing huge amounts of money.  We may not have helicopters to dispatch within minutes, but even keeping an ambulance occupied for the wrong reason could prove costly.  Worse, such habits could lead to a “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation.

The centre is not the only place where pranksters try their tricks.  We hear people even calling police emergency numbers and other facilities.  It will be difficult to change people’s habits overnight, but it is worth putting some measures in place to prevent misuse of public facilities.

Today, with technology, it is not difficult to trace callers, even if there are tricks of hiding the call number. From the number of calls the centre registered, they have been patient even if they are frustrated.

Instead of wishing for a similar system in other countries, the centre could start getting back at pranksters, by compiling records and approaching authorities.  The police and telecom service providers will cooperate in discouraging such practical jokes at the cost of an emergency service.

All it takes is taking to task one or two pranksters to deter the others.

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