LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Calls to Little Rock 911 kept ringing and ringing when an Arkansas lawmaker collapsed near the State Capitol.
Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum called 911 on Feb. 14 after one of her colleagues, another state representative, collapsed at the Republican Party of Arkansas Headquarters’ building.
“[He] had a seizure, which is pretty scary to see a nice, strapping young man just go down,” Lundstrum said.
Her phone call to 911 kept ringing and ringing.
“When I didn’t get a response, I thought well, it’s tied up, it’s not responding, I don’t know what else to do,” Lundstrum said.
The lawmaker ended the call and noticed others were also trying to call 911.
“Nobody got through,” she said.
Lundstrum said minutes after hanging up, she had an incoming call.
Little Rock 911: “Hello, this is a 911 operator. Is there an emergency?”
Lundstrum: “Yes, we have an emergency at the Republican Party Headquarters.”
A work assignment sheet, obtained through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, points to only one person dedicated to answering 911 calls during that shift.
Working 4 You told Lundstrum what we found.
“I would be very surprised. That would be a very scary thing considering the size of this city and the number of people coming in and out,” Lundstrum said.
This is the second known instance of 911 calls left ringing. Last month, Working 4 You uncovered emergency calls had to be returned after five people were killed in a plane crash.
Working 4 You had questions and emailed the 911 director and mayor’s office requesting an interview with both about the issue and plan to tackle it. Only the 911 director was available.
“Staffing has always been an issue prior to my arrival,” Juana Green, Little Rock Communications Director said.
Green said even though the work schedule shows one person assigned to answer calls on Valentine’s Day, a second person was juggling between dispatcher and call taker.
“The worksheet does not tell you what position the individual was assigned to. The worksheet tells you who was on duty and their skill set,” Green said.
Green said 911 calls are answered in the order received, whether it’s a crash or a medical emergency, like the one that happened at the Republican Party building.
“You have a room full of people and everybody is trying to call about the same incident and all standing next to each other– I think that would be a practice, I think, the public needs to reevaluate or reconsider how they address approaching 911,” Green said.
If you have to call 911, never hang up.
Green was hired as the Little Rock Communications Director in October 2021. She said the city could do more to educate people on how 911 works.
The 911 center is authorized for 65 people, including its administration. Green said she’s down half her workforce. The city’s latest data reveals 32 vacancies.
After Green’s arrival, she changed the length of shifts from eight hours to 12. She believes the change in schedule will help with staffing issues in the communications center.
“One of the biggest changes we made was to make those eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts so now we have more coverage. If you imagine, eight-hour shifts, there was probably one person or maybe no one assigned to answer phones,” Green said.
But Green said she does not know that for a fact– she said an eight-hour shift likely put holes in a shift.
“I made some necessary changes along the way. Unfortunately, I can’t control how folks respond to that,” she said.
While on paper there are people assigned to answer emergency calls, phones are at times, left ringing. To help with the staffing struggle, dispatchers and call takers just received a 3.5% raise. It brought the starting salary from $36,067 to $39,021.
“Last time I spoke with HR, there was a salary study performed and we are comparable, if not, the highest paid in this area,” Green said.
Working 4 You looked into that, but it’s not what we found.
North Little Rock’s 911 center pays nearly four grand more. Someone with no experience starts at $42,915.57. Pulaski County Sheriff’s pay $42,355.
Green said since the beginning, she’s been trying to create some order within her department and while staffing has always been a problem, operational improvements are on the way to help with workflow.
“I’m not getting things back in order, I’m just trying to create some order for the department,” Green said.
When Green was asked how much time the mayor and citizens should give her to get order of 911…
“Can I ask, how much time was given to my predecessors,” she said.
Back to the republican party building emergency, lawmakers resorted to another line for help.
Little Rock 911: “This is a 911 operator. Is there an emergency?”
Unknown: “Yes, we could not get through to you. We did call the State Capitol Police.”
An ambulance eventually arrived for the lawmaker, who we’re not identifying. Lundstrum said he’s doing great.
Little Rock 911 falls under Mayor Frank Scott Junior and the Board of Directors. Lundstrum believes the city has also been getting complaints about 911.
“They will have to say, wait a second, there’s a serious problem here,” Lundstrum said. “I hope they’re working those problems out. I understand that they are.”
The mayor did not issue a comment about the 911 issues.