Islanders will have to dial area codes to call neighbors, on any phone, starting July 29.
“If they don’t update area codes, the calls won’t go through,” said San Juan County Undersheriff Brent Johnson.
Even if calls are made in the same area code, 10 digits must be used, whether on a cell or landline, according to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Local calls will not be charged or considered long-distance.
This new procedure was planned last May when the Washington UTC approved the additional 564 area code to meet the demand of new numbers in western Washington.
The 564 area code will be assigned to new numbers with the 360 area code starting Aug. 28. It will eventually be added to regions that use the area codes 206, 253, and 425, according to the Washington UTC.
“As the other area codes exhaust, the 564 area code will be used to provide additional numbers in those areas,” said Anna Gill, Washington UTC media and communications manager.
The North American Numbering Plan Administrator projects there will be no more 360 area code numbers by early 2018.
The addition of 564 means western Washingtonians’ second lines could have a different area code than the firsts; neighbors could have different area codes.
According to information CenturyLink provided to San Juan County, those who do not dial the three digit area code, then seven-digit phone number for all western Washington calls, will receive this message on landlines:
“This local call now requires 10 digits. It is not necessary to dial a one when calling this number. Please redial using the correct area code.”
CenturyLink is the only landline provider in the county.
To help customers adjust, Washington UTC allowed a six-month grace period, starting in January, where callers could use the 10-digit procedure, until it becomes mandatory in July.
Some alarm systems and medical alert systems may need to be updated to work with 10-digit numbers, according to Gill.
Johnson said most alarm systems call the alert provider and not 911, directly. Those numbers may need to dial an area code to go through. He added that 911 calls will not be affected by this change.
Gail Leschine-Seitz, with the Mullis Community Senior Center, said the two most popular medical alert systems in the county are SafteyLine and Phillips Lifeline. According to the companies’ representatives, both devices dial toll-free numbers, starting with 800 or 866, to reach company staff then emergency services. They do not need to be updated since they do not use area codes. Toll-free numbers will not be affected by the new procedure, said Gill.
Leschine-Seitz noted that cell phone contacts will need to include area codes for calls to work. She will remind seniors about this at the Mullis Center’s lunches in the next couple weeks. The lunches occur Mondays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The commission originally approved an additional area code for western Washington in 2000, but Washington UTC officials were able to postpone it by conserving numbers. According to Gill, Washington was one of the first states to release 1,000 sequential numbers, which are requested by telecommunication companies, instead of the standard 10,000.