Report: NYC's 911 System Troubled by Errors, Delays

A report released on Friday revealed flaws in New York City's $2 billion 911 system.


The city’s 911 system is riddled with problems that could cost crucial seconds in dispatching emergency services — right down to the way operators answer the phones — despite a $2 billion overhaul, a report released yesterday found.

Mayor Bloomberg issued a final version of the report, after coming under intense pressure for refusing to release earlier drafts of the consultant’s critical findings first reported by The Post.

But the report released yesterday at 133 pages was shorter than the 216-page draft prepared by Virginia-based Winbourne Consulting, hired after the city bungled the 2010 Christmas blizzard cleanup.

And the new document didn’t include some of the more serious problems reported by The Post, which cited sources familiar with the draft who claimed rifts between the Police and Fire Departments blocked crucial streamlining of the system.

The city’s fire officers union won a court order for the city to turn over the draft report, which the city has appealed. That case is pending.

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway insisted the shorter, final version accurately reflected thousands of pages of work papers.

“If the city wanted to put out a sanitized report about the 911 system, this would not be it,” he declared.

The shortcomings of the $2 billion system, launched in May 2009, were numerous and resulted in 14 recommendations for improvements included in the report put out by City Hall.

Most centered on the lack of coordination between the Police and Fire Departments in creating what was supposed to be a “unified” response to get emergency vehicles to the scene more quickly.

Among the findings:

* There is no unified governance structure for 911, a problem severe enough for Bloomberg to immediately start drafting an executive order establishing one.

* NYPD and FDNY call takers waste valuable time asking duplicative questions and taking identical actions for the same 911 caller.

* 911 operators answer every call by stating their ID number, a practice dating back to the days before computers.

Under current protocols, callers in distress have to wait until the seventh question to be asked the most critical question: “What is the emergency?”

* The FDNY and NYPD don’t have agreed-upon policies or training curriculums for how to respond to a surge of 911 calls. They also use separate maps.

* Remarkably, 38 percent of all 911 calls in 2010 — or 3.9 million calls — were made by accident. Most were thought to be “pocket dials” by cellphones, eating up precious seconds that could be devoted to genuine emergencies.

The consultant said an education campaign could reduce errant calls by 50 percent.

Despite the problems, Holloway argued that the system is working well.

“Emergency public safety response, I think it’s safe to say, is faster than it’s ever been,” he said.

“Thousands of work streams were required to get basically 1960s equipment spread all over the city eliminated [and] new networks built,” he said. “This report shows we clearly have more to do.”

Seconds count

Highlights of a review of the city’s $2 billion 911 system:

* Operators’ first words should be “What is the emergency?” instead of providing their ID number, asking for the address and inquiring about the emergency at question No. 7.

* City can’t reliably determine response times because measurements don’t begin immediately when a connection is made.

* NYPD and FDNY call takers consume valuable time asking duplicative questions.

* No coordination between police and fire communications centers on how to respond to a surge of 911 calls requiring multiple agencies to respond.

* Separate maps used by NYPD and FDNY sometimes give different names to same streets.

* No “governance” structure tomanage the system, despite calls for one since 2004.

Republished with permission of The New York Post