DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The troubled Dallas 911 system is closer to being fixed on Friday, according to city officials. As it turns out, the problem was not with ‘ghost calls‘ after all, as was first reported. It was actually a long line of ‘abandoned‘ calls that caused the issue.
Callers who were on hold would disconnect for some reason, hanging up if they were unable to reach an operator. But that was actually creating congestion within the system, as calls from the abandoned numbers multiplied. The problem has been going on for several months.
During a media briefing on Friday afternoon, Mayor Mike Rawlings used baseball metaphors to explain how new technology from T-Mobile resulted in problems. “This was a new curveball that we should have been on top of,” Rawlings said. ” We had new technology from T-Mobile that we as a city weren’t ready to catch. Whether it was the pitcher that was pitching too fast or the catcher couldn’t catch the ball, still, the ball was dropped.”
T-Mobile engineers have been in Dallas since Tuesday night working to fix the problem. City manager T.C. Broadnax spoke at a town hall meeting on Thursday night and was optimistic about repairs to the 911 system. The solution is in sight. “I think we made some headway,” he said. “We’re going to be putting in some fixes, as it relates to the technology.”
In addition to the technology upgrade, a spokeswoman for T-Mobile said that engineers have already made adjustments to the company’s network in Dallas which will allow people calling 911 to reach an operator more quickly. “I’m pleased that our staff and T-Mobile worked through the night and have determined some immediate technological upgrades that will better serve our citizens calling 911,” said Rawlings. That includes more physical lines.
T-Mobile workers will remain in Dallas for the next two weeks to make sure that the improvements are working.
In the short-term, the Dallas Police Department plans to use overtime to pay for a dozen more 911 call takers. The city should have about 100 call takers at any given time. But, at one point, staffing was as low as seven people during a shift. “Hopefully staffing won’t be the issue going forward,” Rawlings said Friday. The center receives between 1 million and 2 million calls each year.
The first real test for these changes comes Saturday night, when 911 typically receives the most calls. Officials will continue to monitor the issue over subsequent Saturday nights to ensure that problems do not come back.
Rawlings Answers Questions About Dallas 911 Issue
Many residents in Dallas first learned that the 911 system was not working when they were placed on lengthy holds during real emergencies, sometimes as long as 40 minutes. Two people have come forward, saying that their loved ones died as a result of the 911 problem.
Bridget Alex said that her 6-month-old son died Saturday evening after his babysitter frantically called 911 three times without reaching an operator. She was on hold for 31 minutes. Alex drove her son to the hospital herself, but it was too late. The child died nearly two hours after the first 911 call was made. The city said that 422 calls were placed on hold that night.
David Taffet also explained that he was placed on hold for 20 minutes when he called 911 last week. His husband, Brian Cross, had stopped breathing. When he finally spoke to an operator, paramedics arrived within three minutes. Cross was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Since the 911 problems have come to light, other people have reported similar issues. State Rep. Helen Giddings said that she was placed on hold after calling 911 on the same night as Taffet, when a friend passed out. It happened to Steven Wollard back in January as well. He dialed 911 to report a homeless man acting aggressively.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Wollard said, “if T-Mobile has to send every engineer they possess to Dallas to solve the problem, to make sure the citizens here are safe, that’s what needs to happen.”
However, during his Friday media briefing, Rawlings said that he was frustrated by the lack of urgency — from both T-Mobile and the city management — to address this issue when it was first noticed late last year. “We didn’t move fast enough to get to the heart of it,” Rawlings said. He praised new city manager Broadnax on being more responsive.
Rawlings is also upset with the city’s failure to invest in new technology. He does not even know how much the 911 upgrades will cost. “Money shouldn’t be the issue here,” he said Friday. “This is public safety. Let’s do what’s right, let’s make sure we’re answering all the calls, and then we’ll deal with the financial side.”