Twice in two months, the city's 911 system failed, and failed badly. In July, a family watched their Oak Cliff home burn to the ground as 911 callers were put on hold. Last month, a woman called 911 as she was allegedly being murdered by her ex-husband. Police were dispatched to the house but, not knowing the severity of the call, left after their knocks went unanswered.
The city defended its 911 system. The reason callers in the first incident were put on hold wasn't because the call center was inadequately staffed but because callers were hanging up when put on hold and calling back, which sent them to the back of the queue. In the second case, police admitted that the dispatcher probably didn't properly convey the urgency of the situation when she sent officers to a domestic violence call and tweaked their policy to avoid such situations. The system as a whole, however, was fine.
Quietly, though, the city seems to have been working to patch up a 911 system that is broken. In its budget for next year, the Communications and Information Services Department is asking for an additional $4.3 million for its 911 system, a 31-percent increase over last year. About a third of that will go to upgrade the recording and dispatch system, improve call-handling capacity, and upgrade technology at a backup facility. The rest, per today's City Council briefing, will "support Police and Fire for call center operations."
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I've asked city spokesman Frank Librio for more specifics on how the latter portion of funds will be used and what prompted the upgrades. I'll update when I hear back.