DALLAS - More than three weeks after the city of Dallas first admitted people were having trouble getting through to 911, the city’s emergency call center is still missing the mark when it comes to answering calls.
Two families say their loved ones died while they could not get through to a 911 call taker. One of those deaths was a 6-month-old baby.
Many cities rely on a formula that 911 calls should be answered in 10 seconds or less. And even though the city has call takers working overtime and Dallas police officers filling in to answer calls, the city is still falling short of its target.
Dr. Bill Munn ran Tarrant County's 911 center for 21 years. He is now vice president of a company developing new technology for 911 centers. He says like the nation's failing bridges...call centers around the country are sputtering.
"It's just inadequate, not the failure on any institution,” he said. “Think of all the technology on the street: iPhone, smartphones streaming video, texting."
The city of Dallas hopes a weekend job fair will help with its staffing shortages.
FOX 4 wanted to find out how the number of call takers in Dallas differs from other cities. We obtained recent staffing numbers showing the city had just 75 call takers in January. According to census data, that's one call taker for 16,000 residents.
Compare those numbers with Fort Worth, where it's one call taker to 6,000 residents. In Austin, it’s on call taker for every 8,000 residents.
But Houston's ratio is worse than Dallas: one call taker for 19,000 residents. Even so, Houston says it answers 98 percent of the calls within 10 seconds, a goal Dallas is still struggling to reach.
"No 911 system is equipped for the biggest spikes,” Munn said. “Staffing is an inexact science."
Munn says technology being tested at A&M right now could allow call takers to answer the lines during call surges even when they are at home. But the city is counting on some of these folks to help even under normal loads.
“We're looking for people who want to help others in their greatest time of need,” Dallas Police Deputy Chief Scott Walton.
In just four hours Friday morning, 150 applicants had already applied. But even people who make the cut won't be ready to start taking calls for three months.