DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – After T-Mobile’s top engineers and city of Dallas staff worked through the night, city leaders believe they’ve now potentially solved a major problem that has plagued 911 callers for four months and may be linked to two deaths.
The city says there are three main fixes:
- A spokeswoman says T-Mobile engineers made adjustments to the company’s network in Dallas. The adjustments will allow T-Mobile’s cell phone customers who are placed on hold while calling 911, to reach an operator more quickly.
- The city says it’s pursuing technology upgrades to its system.
- Starting this weekend, the city says it will add a dozen 911 operators to receive additional calls that come in and will remain until the issue is fully resolved.
But the city also says T-Mobile insists the cause of the problems was not a surge in “ghost calls” to 911 as the city has explained since November.
The city says ghost calls happen when a person’s phone makes repeated calls to 911, without the person realizing it.
Instead, the city now says T-Mobile engineers blame the problems on “abandoned calls”, which happen when a caller hangs up before reaching a 911 call taker.
That’s why the city says it’s bringing in more 911 operators.
Sources say the city has a total of about 100 911 operators, but that each shift has far fewer staffers answering calls.
The city said it receives between one and two million 911 calls each year.
In 2017, the city is set to spend $91 million on its 911 system.
In a statement, Mayor Mike Rawlings says, “I’m pleased that our staff and T-Mobile worked through the nigh and have determined some immediate technological upgrades that will better serve our citizens calling 911. I’m also encouraged that City Manager T.C. Broadnax has committed to increasing staffing and recommending any other budgetary enhancements to our 911 call center.”
Dallas councilman Lee Kleinman says he’s hopeful a solution is finally in place. “I’m very pleased to hear that. We need to make sure we’re addressing these emergency calls as quickly as possible. I’m glad they believe they found a work around or found a way the calls can get answered in a reasonable amount of time.”
Councilman Kleinman also says the technological upgrades and additional 911 operators are worth considering. “Let’s do the studies and figure that out. We seemed to do ok with the staffing before these abandoned calls occurred at a high rate. I want to make sure we’re staffed based on metrics we can meet.”
He says the 911 operators must be licensed, and that the city has discussed the possibility of asking neighboring cities to send its 911 operators to Dallas to temporarily help with the situation.
The city says T-Mobile engineers will remain in Dallas for the next two weeks to make sure the adjustment they made to their network is working and prevents hundreds of people from being placed on hold for up to 40 minutes, which is what happened Saturday.
Bridget Alex says her six month old son Brandon died that evening after her babysitter frantically called 911 three times, but a 911 operator never picked up.
Alex says on the third and final call, her babysitter was placed on hold for 31 minutes.
While the city says 911 operators returned each call but couldn’t get through, Alex says that’s not true.
She says the city never called her babysitter back and didn’t send a police officer to her North Dallas apartment to see what the problem was.
Alex says she drove home and then drove her son to the hospital herself.
He died nearly two hours after the first 911 call was made.
The city says 422 911 calls were placed on hold that evening.
On Thursday, Alex said she still doesn’t understand. “I just want to know why didn’t they come out, I just want to know why.”
The Dallas Police Department tells me it’s policy regarding 911 calls is this: “For landlines, if no answer on callback, we dispatch an officer to the location. For cellphones, if no answer on call back, we do not dispatch an officer. If we get a voicemail, we leave a message directing them to call 911. If we can articulate there is an immediate danger, then we request additional information from the carrier in order to obtain a specific location for the caller. An officer will then be dispatched to that location.”
When asked if that happened in Brandon Alex’s case, police said the incident is still under investigation.
We’ve asked the city about Alex’s claims, and are waiting for detailed answers.
Alex isn’t the only case that may be tied to a resident’s death.
David Taffet says he was placed on hold when he called 911 Monday, March 6th after his husband Brian Cross stopped breathing.
After initially being disconnected, Taffet says he called 911 back and stayed on hold for 20 minutes.
When he finally spoke to an operator, Taffet says they sent paramedics within three minutes, who then took his husband to the hospital.
But Cross died at the hospital.
State Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) says she was placed on hold when she called 911 on March 6th as well.
While her friend had passed out, she received the needed treatment.
On that day, the city says 360 911 calls had been placed on hold for extended periods of time.
But Steven Wollard says a similar situation happened to him when he called 911 in January.
He was in downtown Dallas and says he wanted help because an irate homeless man was acting aggressively toward him and his wife along with other young women.
But Wollard says 911 placed him on hold for ten minutes.
The homeless man eventually left and so Wollard hung up.
Wollard says ten minutes later, a 911 operator called him back.
He says, “It’s a bad situation when you, girls, or an elderly person are walking down the street and confront one of these people, to know help is not really available. it leads one to wonder what has to be done for people here to be safe.”
We still have many questions about what led to the problems with T-Mobile’s network that caused many calls being placed on extended hold, and why it took since November to develop a potential solution.