On Thursday, the city instead blamed the problem on abandoned calls. Callers would hang up after dialing 911 and dispatchers were then obligated to return the call to determine if there was an emergency. But that created a long backlog of calls.
On Friday, Deputy Police Chief Jesse Reyes said the call center received 5,352 calls between 3 and 11 p.m. on March 11, a period that might average about 2,800 calls. It was during that period that a Bridget Alex and her baby sitter were unable to reach a 911 operator after an accident involving Alex's 6-month-old son. Brandon Alex later died of his injury. On March 6, the night David Taffet said he couldn't reach 911 operators for help after husband Brian Cross collapsed at their home, the call center received 4,802 calls between 3 and 11 p.m. Reyes provided no average number for such a weeknight, but said it would have been less than the 2,800 calls seen on a weekend evening.
Reyes said no totals for the number of abandoned calls during those periods were available. He said 911 operators answer 90 percent of their calls within 10 seconds, the industry standard. He said, however, there is no industry standard for getting back to calls placed on hold during high volumes, and he has no totals of how many calls on the evenings of March 6 and March 11 were abandoned.
WHAT IS THE FIX?
More dispatchers are now fielding calls and city spokeswoman Sana Syed said T-Mobile has made modifications to its network. For example, T-Mobile engineers have disabled a function where if a person calls 911 and doesn't make contact with a dispatcher, then the phone will automatically generate a follow-up call, she said. Disabling that function will help reduce the backlog of calls. Also complicating matters were phones that would not accept any incoming calls if a person was on the line with 911. That means a dispatcher would be unable to return a call if a person was making another attempt to reach 911.
Syed said an ongoing complication is that come components of the city's 911 network are outdated and need to be replaced.
A BIGGER PROBLEM
Some of the challenges Dallas is facing are playing out nationally. Landline systems are largely incompatible with next generation 911 systems, which use mapping services to locate callers and can support text, video and other forms of communication.
"We have got to make the transition quickly because the longer we stay in this transitional state with one foot in the landline world and one foot in the IP, or internet, world the more vulnerable we're going to be," said Trey Forgety, director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association.
He said a new national perspective must take root. In the past, not much could be done to impede 911 service. But now ransomware, "denial of service" attacks and other cyber threats are undermining 911 operations. Forgety mentioned a case investigated by Phoenix police in which a teenager tweeted a link that contained coding that caused iPhones to repeatedly dial 911. Retweets and reposts by others would automatically generate more calls, inundating 911 centers in many parts of the country.