The City of Richmond has a problem with people calling 911 and hanging up. 8News has learned a number of the hang-up calls are coming from Richmond City Hall.
8News has uncovered of the 337 emergency calls for service to City Hall so far this year, 132, nearly 40 percent were silent.
“It’s tying up a communications officer,” Stephen Willoughby, Richmond’s Director of Emergency Communications, said.
Willoughby says too many city workers are misdialing 911, and when they realize what they did, they hang up. Richmond DEC has tried to alert city employees.
“We sent a notice to all of City Hall,” says Willoughby.
So what’s with all the City Hall misdials? When making a call from Richmond’s City Hall, city workers must first dial a ‘9’ to get an outside line. Then, if they follow that up with a ‘1’ because they’re making a long-distance call, it can be easy to mistakenly hit another number ‘1.’ And Willoughby says if the caller pauses too long after dialing just 91- some phones automatically think the caller means 911 and dials it up.
Still, it’s not just city employees placing accidental calls. 8News has learned since January 1, 2019, Richmond’s 911 center has received more 8,205 hang-ups. We’re told if the call is really a mistake, that’s the worst thing you can do. We’re told if you make an ‘oops’ call, it’s ok: Just don’t hang up.
“When you dial 911, stay on the line and tell the communications officer it was an accident,” Willoughby explained. Otherwise, a communications officer has to try and call you back and if they don’t get you on the phone, they have to send out a police officer. This wastes resources and takes police away from real emergencies.
“If they just stay on the line, we would be able to ascertain that there is not an emergency and move on to the next call,” Willoughby added.
We asked if the city is considering changing that call-out number, but 8News was told for now they’re hoping to just educate folks to stay on the line.
In the meantime, DEC also has a warning for parents who give their kids old cell phones to play with: Even if the phone is deactivated, 911 can still be activated. You can find a list of do’s and don’t’s when calling 911 as well as tips for parents on the Richmond DEC website here.