DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called the ghost calls plaguing 911 the city’s “number one priority.”
T-Mobile engineers arrived in Dallas Wednesday morning, vowing to stay until the problem is fixed. Rawlings, however, was unable to explain why the sense of urgency didn’t come sooner.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m very disappointed with that. It should have been taken care of, in my mind, some weeks ago, definitely last week.”
Ghost calls happen when a person on a T-Mobile cell phone makes a single call to Dallas 911, but that call somehow gets caught in a loop. This means the emergency call center begins receiving hand-up calls from that same number and the loop can continue to happen over and over.
Emergency policy dictates that 911 operators respond to every hang up call. In the case of ghost calls, this wastes the time of operators while leaving other callers on hold.
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the ghost calls began in October.
In November, the City notified T-Mobile of the large number of calls it was receiving. In January, both Dallas city leaders and the wireless carrier say they believed the problem was fixed, only to see it re-appear in the last few weeks in even larger numbers.
“Last Saturday, there was an experience and spike in calls we had not seen before,” said T.C. Broadnax.
It was during that spike that 6-month-old Brandon Alex’s 19-year-old babysitter tried getting through to emergency services. She never did and Brandon later died from an injury still under investigation.
The baby’s mother, Bridget Alex, said, “When I came and picked up my son she [babysitter] was still on hold with 911.”
T-Mobile claims adjustments made Wednesday and Thursday should improve, if not solve, the issue.
“We provide the same service all across the country,” explained T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray. “There is something unique in this complex, this system here, that we have not been able to identify.”
The only other city experiencing a similar problem, Denver, has seen it on a much smaller scale.
Meanwhile, officials in Dallas say they are increasing 911 staffing, asking officers trained to take calls to work overtime and offering training to other city staff. “We have to make sure it never happens again,” said Rawlings.
Any Dallas resident calling 911 and who is placed on hold is being asked to remain on the line, because hanging up to redial will only bump them to the back of the line.