At least two Dallas families are blaming the deaths of loved ones on the clogged 911 emergency line.
T-Mobile engineers have been working around the clock in Dallas since Wednesday to try to fix an issue that has been clogging the city’s 911 emergency line.
A problem that involved Bellevue-based T-Mobile’s service was causing long wait times for people with emergencies.
At first, officials attributed the issue to so-called “ghost calls,” or multiple calls from a phone number. Ghost calls occur when a person phones 911, then that same number automatically calls again and again, without the person knowing.
But by Thursday afternoon, Dallas officials said T-Mobile had determined the issue was actually caused by “abandoned calls,” or people calling 911, then hanging up. Their number remains in a queue for dispatchers to call back, and the queue keeps growing.
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The root issue stemmed from a variety of factors including Dallas’ aging 911 service technology, which couldn’t differentiate between calls on hold and hangups, and the way T-Mobile’s technology interacted with the system and identified callers, according to Dallas public-information director Sana Syed.
T-Mobile and city engineers in Dallas had made “significant progress” as of Thursday afternoon, according to a news release from the city of Dallas.
Dallas said it is adding 12 additional dispatchers each day beginning this weekend to handle the spike in calls. T-Mobile made adjustments to its network “to smooth the delivery of calls to 911,” according to the news release.
Two Dallas residents have pointed to deaths of loved ones this month that they believe were affected by the issue. Both waited on the line for long periods and did not receive timely calls back when they hung up, according to The Washington Post. Usually, a 911 dispatcher calls back quickly when there is a hang up.
One of the deaths, of a 6-month-old child, is being investigated by Dallas police and child-protective services, according to The Post.
“This issue not only puts paying T-Mobile customers at risk, but it jeopardizes the safety of people throughout our city,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement Tuesday.
The city identified the problem in October, when it noticed calls to 911 had spiked. The city and company thought the issue had been resolved by January, when the number of calls dropped. But it wasn’t fixed.
“Last Saturday, we saw a spike in calls like we’ve never seen before,” Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said in a news conference Wednesday. Broadnax said at one point last week the city had 360 calls on hold.
T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, Neville Ray, traveled to Dallas on Wednesday with a team of engineers to work on the issue along with Executive Vice President Dave Carey.
A T-Mobile team will stay on site for two weeks to keep an eye on the system in case issues pop up, the city said. “T-Mobile committed resources in Dallas until we made progress, and they have kept their promise,” Broadnax said Thursday.
City officials say engineers will examine how T-Mobile cellular technology and the city’s 911 infrastructure interact.
A Texas state report released in 2014 by the Commission on State Emergency Communications noted that 911 service will erode as new digital technology is introduced. The report said that’s because existing 911 systems in Texas and other states are “based on wireline technologies established decades ago.”
Dallas-based AT&T experienced its own 911 problems recently. AT&T cellphone customers in Texas and other states were unable to call 911 for a time on March 8. The company has not explained the cause of that disruption.
David Taffet, who writes for the Dallas Voice website, said at the Wednesday news conference that his husband died last week as Taffet struggled to contact 911. He was on hold for 20 minutes.
“My husband died during that period,” he said, directing the comments to the Dallas mayor and T-Mobile executives.
Taffet wrote that he called 911 and was disconnected after a few minutes of holding. A dispatcher didn’t call back, so he called again while performing CPR. When he got through, responders were at his house within three minutes.
“But had they been there at 9:05 rather than 9:25, Brian might have been resuscitated,” he wrote.
Rawlings expressed condolences to Taffet at the news conference and said the city was going to “get to the facts on every issue in any fatality around this.”