NYC’s New 911 Call System To Be Reviewed

by Claudia Morell
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New York City Hall

riacale, flickr

New York City's new 911 call system will be the subject of a City Council oversight hearing this week.

Was it human error or a computer glitch that caused a four-minute delay in processing a request for emergency assistance in the case of Ariel Russo, a 4-year old who died after a car hit her and her grandmother?

Audio of the story is below.
 
That is the question three city council committees hope to address in a joint oversight hearing of the city’s new 911 call system, known as ICAD. The Council’s Committees on Public Safety, Technology, and Fire and Criminal Justice Services added the oversight hearing to their stated agenda after hearing conflicting reports from Administration officials and union leaders.
 
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly admitted there had been glitches to the computer system during the initial launch on May 29th. Computers at the call center’s headquarters in Brooklyn crashed on several occasions, causing delays. At one point, operators had to use pen and paper to write down emergency requests. 
 
But last Thursday, the Mayor defended city’s new call system and said the glitches during the initial launch had since been fixed. Bloomberg said it was human error that caused the delayed request for Russo’s ambulance "They [the call takers] didn't do what they were supposed to do, and we are looking at the procedures," Bloomberg said. "It's very tragic; but it was not a software thing, that's just ginned up by unions who don't like the fact that we have combined all of the call takers together."
 
One of the union members refuting the Administration is Israel Miranda, President of Local 2507, which represents the emergency call takers. "You've got the same people working there; the same professional people who have been working there for years,” said Miranda, “Obviously, there is something wrong with the system, because these issues never happened before." Miranda is expected to testify on the new ICAD system, as are reps from the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
 
Following Russo's death, the FDNY said a dispatcher didn't see the request, and then took a scheduled break. It was the replacement operator who finally addressed the call.  But Miranda refutes that claim, “Nobody saw this call, and obviously it was not there. But it's a shame that they want to blame the user when there are problems, instead of admitting there are glitches with the system they don't understand."
 
Councilman Peter Vallone, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. 
 
"Was it yet another system error from a system that was seven years overdue and one billion dollars over budget?” Vallone asked.  “Or was it human error? And why did that human error occur? Is it because they are under- staffed?” Valone said he believes they are, “They have people doing three shifts of over-time in one week."
 
But glitches to the ICAD system are only part of the agenda. 
 
The meeting was originally scheduled two months prior to discuss legislation that would change how emergency response times are calculated. 
 
Under the current system, the clock starts after the 911 operator transfers the call to the necessary department, whether it be fire, police or EMS. But three bills, sponsored by Councilman Lewis Fidler, would start the count from when someone calls 911.
 
Councilman Vallone said it could provide a more accurate representation of emergency response times. “People want to know, from the time I call 911, how long is it going to take, not from the time there is some internal transfer between two different departments."
 
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, is also concerned with how emergency response times are calculated. She notes how, during recent budget negotiations, the administration has justified closing fire companies because response times are at ‘record lows’. 
 
“That's not true,” said Crowley, “response times may even be longer because [Bloomberg] changed the way you calculate it, and nobody knows what the true response time is." Crowley adds that she is also concerned with problems with the new 911 call system, “The mayor has spent upwards of $2 billion plus on this system that is no more reliable today than when he became mayor.”
 
Councilman Filder first introduced the bills in April 2010, and have since been sitting in committee. 
 
According to Councilman Filder’s legislative aid, Brad Ried, the bills are based on older legislation now expired. "The bills themselves obviously pre-date a lot of these issues,” said Ried, “But they sort of express a general concern that response times be measured in a proper manner so that we have the right information, and can prepare our system and put our resources where they need to be."
 
The hearing, originally scheduled for Monday, was rescheduled for Friday morning. 
 

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