Mayor seeks improved technology after 911 calls go unanswered

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on July 6, 2012 at 5:27 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 6 at 5:46 PM

DALLAS - As the Dallas family that lost its home while neighbors frantically tried to call 911 protects what's left, Mayor Mike Rawlings Friday said he he looks for improvements in technology to avoid the situation again.

Jerence Smith picks up what's left of his sister's furniture and personal belongings at the house in the 1900 block of Berwick Avenue knowing he's in competition with some who also prize her property.

He says neighbors told him looters have come by.

"It could be scrap metal, it could be -- you just never know who's coming through here," Smith said.

Fire early Wednesday destroyed the home of his sister, Dora Fuller. She and her family escaped.

But for the city, there's no escaping the questions about neighbors repeatedly calling 911 only to hear ringing.

Dallas police oversee the system and say a spike in calls at that time likely took up all incoming lines covered by operators or the recording to hold on. That left the house fire calls ringing, so the callers hung up over a five-minute period.

Police say 13 operators on duty was enough.

Mayor Mike Rawlings wants better technology to see if priority calls can be answered faster, or at least hear the recording.

"Could we have done something that could have stopped this from happening?" Rawlings said. "And if so, what would be that answer? And let's learn from it and maybe we'll consider putting that in going forward, so they're going to come back with that answer to me."

The city code department ordered the family to clear the fire debris since it is considered litter, and they say they're trying. But with no insurance, there's no money to demolish or rebuild.

Shujuana Smith-Walker is Fuller's niece.

"We are not in this position to rebuild on our own," Smith-Walker said. "We are not in a position to come and move these things. We need help."

The code department considers the structure a hazard, and if the family can't demolish it, the city may need have to knock it down.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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