People on the road call Oregon State Police about nonemergency issues all the time, reporting everything from loose livestock to blown tires.
The agency has been working for years to develop a system to handle those calls. This month, officials launched a new number, *OSP, for mobile phone users to report any problems that don't necessarily constitute an emergency.
The number — the asterisk button, then 6-7-7 — is a mobile phone-direct call to the Oregon State Police dispatcher center. It is answered by a live dispatcher around the clock, seven days a week, but is separate from the 911 emergency system.
Oregon State Police officials said they expect callers to use *OSP for traffic safety, minor crashes, highway hazards and obstructions, and requests for assistance.
Mindy McCartt, communications director for the agency, said the system comes through a partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon cellphone providers.
"The Oregon State Police has been relying on the generosity of the cellphone companies to provide us this *OSP (*677) mobile phone number for our purposes. So these last several years we have been working with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and US Cellular and have been testing the viability statewide," she said.
The number has been live for about six months but was only recently made available for public use, McCartt said. No costs were involved with setting up the program.
"We don’t have any information as of yet how often it has been used, and yes we hope it is working," she said.
People who don't have cellphone service, or who work with providers who do not currently support this access number, can report nonemergencies via the department's toll-free phone number, 800-452-7888.
McCartt said the agency does not know how the new number will affect troopers' call loads yet.
"Because this number is so new, we don’t have any analytics as of yet," she said. "There are so many 911 entities, I don’t think we will be able to get good information on the number of nonessential 911 calls that we will be clearing up."