DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas resident David Taffet says a 20 minute wait to reach a 911 operator may be to blame for his husband Brian Cross dying March 6th.
“It makes me very upset.”
It was on that Monday night when the city’s 911 call center experienced a big spike in unexplained emergency calls.
Taffet says, “The one time I really relied on the city for help, I was frantic, the city failed me. We just weren’t worried about it until somebody died.”
At the first briefing held for city council members Wednesday, Dallas’ interim police chief David Pughes and City Manager T.C. Broadnax admitted the 911 call center was understaffed for years.
Since March, city managers have refused to say how many 911 call-takers it employs, citing security reasons.
But the city did disclose to council members that in March, the call center had 60 911 call-takers, with 12 in training — even though for years, the city has budgeted for 101 full-time positions.
During the briefing, Mayor Mike Rawlings sharply criticized city staff. “For all these years, we’ve been misled.”
The Mayor has blamed a lack of staffing in part for major delays in 911 calls being answered in March.
Besides Taffet, Bridgett Alex says her infant son Brandon died after his babysitter repeatedly dialed 911, but couldn’t get anyone on the phone. That was Saturday, March 11th, another night the city says it received a major spike in unexplained 911 calls.
Rawlings told city staff, “Hopefully, there’s a culture change here, that when we commit to hiring people, they’re actually hired.”
Interim police chief David Pughes explained to the Mayor why the department failed to hire enough call-takers. “I attribute it to a lack of aggressiveness on the part of the police department to actively go out there and hire.”
That includes holding career fairs, something the department did earlier this month, in which it received 871 applicants for 911 call taker and dispatcher jobs.
Broadnax admitted, “W should and could have been more aggressive in hiring positions that were budgeted.”
After the briefing, CBS11 asked Pughes, who took over for Chief David Brown in October, why it was allowed to happen and if anybody was paying attention to the problem.
Pughes said, “We’re talking about things that go back a number of years and so it’s difficult for me to comment years ago what people were doing.”
City managers also made another key admission after being questioned by city council member Scott Griggs.
He asked about the city’s contract, worth between $600,000-$700,000 a year, with AT&T to maintain the 911 call center. The contract includes software designed to help with the call center’s staffing.
Griggs asked the city’s Chief Information Officer Bill Finch, “So we are not using any staffing software from AT&T?” Finch replied, “No sir.”
City Manager Broadnax went further. “I do not think that was a default in any manner on AT&T’s part. It was actually us not using the software to schedule. That is a failure on our part.”
When asked why the police department wasn’t using the software, Chief Pughes said, “It came to my attention just recently that was if we wanted to utilize the software we would have to allocate money to use it.”
Asked if he even knew about the software, Pughes said, “No.”
But he did say even if the department used that software, it still would have determined the 911 call center didn’t have enough call-takers.
Finch, the city’s Chief Information Officer, says it will still take six to seven months to put the software in place. “In the next couple of weeks, we will have part of this software, and then certainly by October- November we will complete the upgrade internally, it will be fully implemented.”
T-Mobile said it adjusted its cell network, which the city credits with preventing spikes in unexplained 911 calls.
Council member Sandy Greyson asked Broadnax if T-Mobile should reimburse the city for some of the costs associated with the call center problem.
Broadnax though said, “I would not place this all at T-Mobile’s feet.”
Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates summed up her comments by describing the situation as a “colossal failure of the system at city hall.”
Mayor Rawlings vowed, “We’re going to fix this.”
And he put the other city departments on notice: “I’m hopeful the rest of the city hall can learn from this as opposed to saying that was over at 911, I’m just fine. Are you hiring all the people you said you were going to hire and are you double-checking all your suppliers?”
Upon hearing statements and admissions made during the briefing Taffet said, “I’m beyond being angry now. I’m just still upset about the death of my husband. The only thing I can do in his (husband’s) memory is say to the city, let’s get this fixed.”
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