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Council Discusses Dallas 911 System Upgrades

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Some recent controversial 911 calls provided the background for a discussion on new computers for the City of Dallas during Wednesday’s council briefing. Improvements to staff and computers at the 911 call center were among the items discussed.

“I’m going to tell you, there’s nothing more important than public safety, and 911 is the way we stay connected,” according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. He calls 911 upgrades a Triple-A priority that go beyond hardware upgrades.

“Technology is a big enabler,” he says, “and I think we’ve got money, the budget, to make that happen. But also the human element is critical. And I know [DPD] Chief Brown is in the middle of putting that together to make sure the people are trained right, that we’ve got the right people running it and we’re responsive to the community.”

Back in July, so many people were calling 911 to report a fire in Oak Cliff that the overloaded system left callers frustrated and angry. The mayor says when those callers dialed in again the system sent them to the back of the answering queue, not the front.

Then, last month’s murder of Deanna Cook, whose body was found in her apartment two days after she called 911, as she was allegedly being attacked by her ex-husband. Those two incidences are requiring hopefully better procedures, responses and that “human element” Police Chief David Brown has informed the mayor he hopes to improve.

“He’s [Brown] told me he’s always trying to upgrade the people, upgrade the performance and I think he’s going to do that,” the mayor said.

According to a council briefing, the city is proposing nearly$3 million to improve the 911 Call Center operations, including new hires, and another million-and-a half for computer upgrades that’ll bring Dallas’ technology up to specs in two years.

“We’re replacing a lot of technology that is nearing end of life; it’s not there yet but we need to stay ahead of those things,” according to Bill Finch, with City Computer and Information Services.

Councilmember Linda Koop asked, “Is this to help us address sometimes when there’s an overload they get stacked up in the queue?”

Finch answered, “We are adding additional there; we’ve been close to coming to what that capacity and peak is. We’re looking at part of the backup and fail-over parts of 911 so that if the primary system does go into overload or fail we want to make sure we have the right level of capacity to handle that fail-over.”

The proposed improvements are part of the new council budget; it must still vote on that budget before the end of the month. It’s promised that will bring technology up-to-date; primed for the next generation of computer improvements, likely just around the corner.

Other improvements thought to be coming: accepting social media and text messages; but since those frequently use a kind of shorthand, it’ll require operators who are familiar with the language of what’s being written.

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