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What you need to know for 05/24/2017

The problem with being named Rotterdam

The problem with being named Rotterdam

Wrong number: Turks angry with Netherlands city call local dispatch center
The problem with being named Rotterdam
The Schenectady County Unified Communications Center was inundated with calls from Turkey last weekend.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

When the Schenectady County emergency dispatch center began getting strange overseas calls Saturday night, dispatchers quickly figured out something odd was going on.

Turkish nationalists were calling to harass the Rotterdam police in response to a heated diplomatic dispute Turkey was having with the Netherlands, and were reportedly playing recordings of Turkish nationalist songs.

The problem is, they were calling police in the wrong Rotterdam: They were off by 3,600 miles, calling a Schenectady County town of 29,000 instead of its namesake, the European city of 600,000. Apparently, internet search engines for the Rotterdam police were showing the U.S. number, and the callers didn't realize the international country code wasn't for the Netherlands.

The calls were fielded at the Schenectady County Unified Communications Center, which answers the emergency calls for all the police departments in the county, including Rotterdam's.

"They were confusing us with Rotterdam in the Netherlands. It was a large number of calls Saturday night," said Joe McQueen, Schenectady County's spokesman.

The incident had its roots in the Dutch government's decision to block Turkish ministers from holding a pro-Turkish government rally in Rotterdam, which has a significant Turkish minority. Angry supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyid Erdogan decided to call Rotterdam's emergency dispatch system in retaliation, according to the dailydot.com website.

A Google search apparently led to the wrong number, and a video showing a call to the Rotterdam, N.Y., number was then placed on the internet for others to emulate.

The calls came to a non-emergency number, McQueen said, and emergency dispatching was not effected.

McQueen said he didn't know the content of the calls, but dailydot.com reported that they consisted of Turkish nationalist songs.

Once the dispatch center realized there was an issue, McQueen said county officials notified Verizon, which was able to trace the calls to Turkey. County officials are now working to see if similar incidents can be prevented in the future.

"We're doing sort of an ongoing post-evaluation to see what could be done," he said. "It was not directed at us."

For the Rotterdam Police Department itself, there wasn't a problem at all.  "We did not receive any calls here at the Rotterdam Police Department," said Lt. Jeffrey Collins.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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