NYC Lawmakers Debate How To Fix City’s 911 System
Dispatcher: “857 Hylan Blvd. This is in Staten Island?”
Caller: “No, 850 Hylan Blvd.”
Dispatcher: “That’s what I said. 850 Hylan Blvd.? This is in Staten Island?”
A woman was attempting to request assistance at a fire at the old convent at St. Joseph Hill Academy on Staten Island back in October. The woman can be heard having to state the location of the fire at least six times.
Following the call, it took the Fire Department seven minutes, two minutes longer than average, to arrive at the scene. FDNY officials blamed miscommunication errors for the delayed response.
Last year, a 4-year-old girl died while waiting for an ambulance after being struck by a car. It was determined that miscommunication errors led to a delayed response, which could have caused the girl to die.
New York’s 9-1-1 system was revamped several years ago under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was a vocal supporter of the new Unified Call Taking system, which requires all 9-1-1 calls to be screened through a central officer before they are transferred to the appropriate agency. Alma Roper, the vice president of Local 1549, a union which includes 9-1-1 operators, said during Friday’s Council hearing that the new system is to blame.
“The current unified call taking system at 911 is clearly an example of waste and mismanagement at the highest level of city government.” – Alma Roper, Vice President of Local 1549
Roper went on to blame city contracts with outside vendors that became inflated, causing the city to pay much more than originally promised for the new system. In addition to overpriced contracts, Roper said much of the staff that operates the call center is overworked and underpaid.
“Proper staffing would have many positive effects, including the substantial reduction of overtime costs, which save tax payers’ dollars. The 911 dispatchers and supervisors are performing a lifesaving job and they have proven time and time again how crucial their function is to the residents and the visitors who come to New York City,” Roper said.
The ongoing overhaul of the 9-1-1 system was halted earlier this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio. It was previously supported by both Bloomberg and former police commissioner Ray Kelly.
“We’ve brought this project to a dead stop. This was really about, in theory, making the system more sophisticated, creating more redundancy, more integration between the different agencies. In fact, what we found were massive cost overruns, which were absolutely against the interest of the tax payers,” de Blasio, said.
The City Council is currently debating whether to go ahead with the overhaul or return to the old system, which transferred 9-1-1 calls directly to the respective agencies.