Mayor: Impatient callers, staffing issues adding to 911 problem

The city of Dallas still doesn't know what's causing surges in 911 calls, but the mayor seemed to put some of the blame on citizens and admitted Friday that the 911 call center has been understaffed.

It's a problem a call taker complained to FOX 4 Investigates about months ago. The city finally released the records FOX 4 asked for in the form of a stack of handwritten time cards.

Five months after the problems started and even with T-Mobile engineers working around the clock this week in Dallas, the city says it still does not know what's causing spikes in 911 calls.

“What I'm upset about is between T-Mobile and city management,” the mayor said. “We didn't move fast enough to get to the heart of it."

First, the city labeled it ‘ghost calls’ involving T-Mobile devices dialing 911 without the customer knowing. But then, the city reversed that and said T-Mobile determined the problem was actually people abandoning their calls to 911. On Friday, the mayor seemed to put the blame on callers.

FOX 4 asked the mayor why calls are being abandoned.

“Because they're impatient,” Rawlings said. “If you don't get someone who says we're putting you on hold, please hang on. The rings keep going, people hang up, and I'll try again.”

David Taffet, a Dallas Voice writer, can't believe the city hasn't figured out the problem yet. While his husband lay dying on March 6, he called 911 and was disconnected.

“I'm not believing people are just hanging up. My call was cut off,” he said.

While performing CPR, Taffet says he called back but was on hold for 20 minutes. Taffet's husband later died.

“You can't do CPR for 20 minutes and expect the person to survive,” he said.

One of the long-running issues for the 911 call center has been staffing.

Information FOX 4 got ahold of through a public records request revealed there were 83 call takers in January 2016. But in January 2017, there were only 75 call takers, a ten percent drop.

“When I looked at this in 2012 closely and asked for us to staff this up, I think we are short cheating on the on the human side,” Rawlings said. “The great news is we've got a new sheriff in town with T.C. Broadnax, the new city manager. He's going to make sure that doesn't happen again."

And while Dallas now says it did not have a problem with T-Mobile ghost calls, FOX 4 learned that Arlington and Irving did experience that very problem on October 26.

MORE: 911 'ghost call' problems in other cities lead to more questions

Arlington received 165 ghost calls in a matter of hours. The city says according to T-Mobile, it was a computer virus that spread through Twitter onto customer phones.

Taffet says people like him calling 911 aren't impatient, they're just desperate.

“You call when you're vulnerable,” he said. “That's when we need the city's help."

The city has already added 12 additional call takers from the Dallas Police Department and is having 12 more call takers work overtime this weekend until the problem is fixed.