Dallas says “ghost calls” to 911 from T-Mobile customers aren’t to blame for deaths

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An enormous backlog of calls coming from T-Mobile customers in Dallas’ 911 center was thought to be the culprit behind a tragic death in the area, but now, it appears that the city no longer believes so-called “ghost calls” are to blame. This week, top executives from the Bellevue, Washington-based cellphone service provider paid a visit to the Texas metropolis to discuss why calls from T-Mobile customers have been flooding the emergency hotline. Last week, a child died after his babysitter’s repeated calls to 911 went unanswered. But it seems as though the issue has been tied to a “backlog of legitimate 911 calls, not ghost calls, which aren’t initiated by a person,” as per a new Wall Street Journal report.

The problem of ghost calls first emerged last fall. T-Mobile customers would call 911, but their phones would then repeatedly redial the number even after the original intended call had been completed. These “ghost” calls forced operators to call every single number back to ensure that the hangup wasn’t related to a real emergency, creating a huge backlog. According to Dallas spokeswoman Sana Syed, more than 400 calls ended up being placed on hold due to an influx in ghost calls on the Saturday when the 6-month-old boy lost his life.

This has become a recurring problem. Earlier this month, the city reported that another string of ghost calls caused more than 360 calls to be placed on hold, sometimes for up to 30 minutes. T-Mobile noted that Dallas is the only city in which this problem has been reported, and that its engineers will remain in the area until the issue is fully addressed.

Happily, it seems as though progress was made rather quickly. Beginning this weekend, Dallas plans to add a dozen additional call takers per day, and is also looking into technology upgrades. Further, T-Mobile says that it has made adjustments in its own network to ensure easy access to 911.

“T-Mobile committed resources in Dallas until we made progress, and they have kept their promise,” said City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “We want our citizens to know that their safety is our number one priority and they can count on us when they call 911.”

“I’m pleased that our staff and T-Mobile worked through the night and have determined some immediate technological upgrades that will better serve our citizens calling 911,” said Mayor Mike Rawlings. “I’m also encouraged that City Manager T.C. Broadnax has committed to increasing staffing and recommending any other budgetary enhancements to our 911 call center.”

Updated to reflect the city of Dallas’ latest conclusion that ghost calls were not to blame for 911 backlog. 

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