A “ghost call” glitch in the emergency call system in Dallas may have led to the death of a 6-month-old infant after a babysitter using T-Mobile cell service couldn’t reach 911 dispatchers, city officials said Wednesday.
Another man also may have died because of the technology issue. During a Q&A session at a press conference held Wednesday by city officials and T-Mobile executives, Dallas blogger David Taffet said he’d been put on hold for 20 minutes after calling 911 on March 6. His husband, 52-year old Brian Cross, later died at a local hospital.
Top T-Mobile executives and engineers are in Dallas working with city officials to resolve the problem, which they’re calling ghost calls. Officials say phones on the T-Mobile network are spontaneously placing multiple calls to 911 centers, creating a flood of traffic that’s resulted in people being put on hold for long periods of time. It’s still unclear what’s causing the problem.
The incidents come only days after AT&T customers in Dallas, as well as in other parts of Texas and Indiana and other states in the Midwest, experienced an outage of 911 service. It’s not clear what’s behind the issues experienced by AT&T customers. The Federal Communications Commission is investigating the AT&T outage. A spokesman for the agency said the Dallas Police Department had previously asked the FCC to look into technical issues with 911 in Dallas and that the review is ongoing.
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the city has known about an issue with 911 calls since October. It began discussions with T-Mobile in November to resolve the issues. By January, he said, he thought the problem had been resolved, but after a spike in calls over the weekend, it was clear it hadn’t.
According to Broadnax, more than 400 calls flooded the call center Saturday evening, the night 6-month-old Brandon Alex died after his babysitter couldn’t reach a 911 operator. Dallas officials said the babysitter had called the 911 center multiple times after being placed on hold.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement it was “outrageous” T-Mobile hadn’t yet resolved the glitch. During the Wednesday press conference, he said the city was working closely with T-Mobile engineers to resolve the issue. T-Mobile executives David Carey and Neville Ray, along with several T-Mobile engineers, have been in Dallas since Wednesday to help solve the problem. Ray said the issue is unique to the Dallas call centers and that T-Mobile hasn’t seen anything similar in the more than 4,000 911 call centers around the country where the carrier’s service is offered.
Carey said the T-Mobile team is continuing to work with Dallas officials and other vendors who supply technology to the 911 Dallas call centers. In the meantime, he’s advised citizens that if they’re put on hold during a 911 call, they shouldn’t hang up and call again. That would only make things worse, since 911 dispatchers are required to return each hang-up call to verify if there’s an actual emergency.