911 Problem Putting Dallas Lives at Risk by Forcing Callers to Wait, City Says

At one point Monday night, more than 360 people were in the queue waiting to speak with 911 call takers, the city said in a prepared statement.

by Claire Z. Cardona, The Dallas Morning News / March 8, 2017
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(TNS) - The city of Dallas is trying to find a fix for what it calls a life-threatening problem that is forcing some 911 callers to wait on hold for extended periods of time.

At one point Monday night, more than 360 people were in the queue waiting to speak with 911 call takers, the city said in a prepared statement.

One of the hundreds who has experienced the extended wait is Rep. Helen Giddings, who dialed 911 to get help for a friend who passed out after being discharged from the hospital after an operation, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported.

Giddings was on hold for 26 minutes before she got an answer, the station reported.

"I just couldn't believe it happened," she told WFAA. "It was like something from a movie."

The problem, which the city has described as a "ghost call" issue,  has been occurring since November 2016.  When someone makes a legitimate call to 911, their phone dials multiple times and the calls register as hang-ups,  the city said.

The problem forces operators to call back every number that registers as a hang-up to verify whether emergency assistance is needed.

T-Mobile is the only carrier experiencing the ghost calls, and no other city in the state has had the issue, Dallas officials said.

T-Mobile repeatedly denied WFAA interview requests.

"This is unacceptable," Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said in a prepared statement. "We will continue putting pressure on T-Mobile on a daily basis until they solve this problem before this issue results in a life being lost because we could not respond to a call in time."

The Dallas Police Department has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

"Somebody is going to get hurt or die because of this issue. It's a grave concern to us, " said Deputy Chief Jesse Reyes told WFAA.

Dallas police will bring patrol officers in on overtime to help out 911, WFAA reported.

The city hopes a T-Mobile software update the carrier began rolling out two weeks ago will help, but so far it has not made a difference, officials said.

Benito Moriel attempted to call in a grass fire near the Dallas Zoo recently  but was placed on hold on and off for more than an hour, something he's never experienced before, WFAA reported.

"I never even knew they had a machine that would like answer the phone," Moriel said. "I felt like I was calling water utility, and I am like, 'What is happening here? How is this even possible?'"

The city of Denver is experiencing a similar issue.

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