Blackout Spotlighted New York City's Emergency Service Glitches

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How did the city's 911 system operate during the blackout? Emergency operators fielded 80,000 calls once the lights went out, but responding to those calls took up to an hour.

Even so, police and fire officials say the system worked.

The top commanders of the city's emergency services were conducting their post-mortems on the blackout. There were problems, but overall the police commissioner says he is pleased. The EMS and fire departments also had their share of difficulties, but to be sure things could have been worse.

For the New York City Fire Department, the timing couldn't have been much better. The blackout happened just before the city-wide shift change, so by holding over the day shift commanders put an extra 1,000 firefighters on the streets.

But problems were inevitable. Thousands were stranded underground, and we spoke to one woman who was stuck in a Midtown elevator.

Elevator Rescuee: "The police never came, the firemen never came, it was insane. It was really bad."

The sheer volume of calls was extraordinary. At the height of the blackout, there was a backlog of 1,000 calls, according to the EMS union. Top priority calls were delayed for up to 20 minutes, and non-urgent calls were delayed an hour.

Robert Unger, EMS: "We had lost our computers and lost our radios. And you can't dispatch ambulances without radios and the computers. And we don't have a backup system."

Medics say a backup system is crucial. The fire department says a backup system was in the works before the blackout. A major priority says the commissioner is putting generators in fire houses.

N.J. Burkett: "Were you surprised to know that individual fire houses didn't have generators?" Nicholas Scopetta, FDNY Commissioner: "Yes, absolutely, because we have battery backup systems, but that's for our voice alarm system so that you can dispatch from it. But there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't have that kind of support in every single fire house."

The city's 911 system went down, all told, for about five minutes, and there were scattered problems with police radios.

Ray Kelly, NYPD Commissioner: "The initial deployment I thought was very good, we got large numbers of police officers out on the street in areas of particular concern to us. As far as the technology is concerned, issues concerning the batteries running our repeaters -- they were programmed to last 24 hours, they didn't."

And the commissioner says he's determined to fix that.

So bottom line priorities for the city are generators for the fire houses, batteries for the NYPD's troubled repeaters.

To give you an idea of what an extraordinary night the Blackout was, Sunday night there were eight fires in New York City. During the blackout, there were 71.

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