A ‘Flawed’ 9-1-1 System?

The union representing 9-1-1 operators and EMS dispatchers urges the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to investigate the emergency system, calling recent failures a “threat to public safety.”

Lillian Roberts, executibve director of District Council 37 AFSCME, the city’s largest public employee union, has called on the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate the New York City 9-1-1 emergency response system, citing recent failures and the fact that the $2 billion system was funded, in part, by federal dollars.

Roberts said the present status of the 9-1-1 system upgrade, including “massive cost overruns, waste and allegations of fraud, serious operational issues and significant understaffing – poses a serious threat to public safety and is a significant drain on much-needed public resources,” Roberts said, noting that shortly after the new system went on line, following a recent $88 million upgrade, it began experiencing glitches and operational failures.

Roberts said the 9-1-1 operators “were forced to record emergency information by hand on slips of paper in order for runners to race through the emergency call center’s vast Brooklyn headquarters to deliver them to dispatchers charged with alerting the appropriate response team.”

To date, there have been three New York City Council hearings on the 9-1-1 system breakdowns, Roberts noted, but added that the city has not taken steps to correct the system’s failures.

New York City Controller John Liu found, in a recent audit, that Mayor Bloomberg’s project to upgrade the system was seven years behind schedule and $1 billion over budget, with only one component of the system upgrade was presently up and running. Liu also indicted that the City’s emergency 9-1-1 program was significantly impacted by the contractors’ delays in meeting their contractual obligations, resulting in a $362 million additional cost to the city.

“The overall cost of the glitch-ridden system,” Roberts added, “has soared from $1.4 billion to more than $2 billion, and chronic understaffing under the Bloomberg administration nearly doubled annual overtime expenses since 2008 to $4 million, with this year’s tab expected to hit $4.5 million.”

Roberts’ letter to DHS insists that the Bloomberg administration has “created a serious threat to public safety and wasted millions of dollars by contracting out the project to firms with questionable performance records, such as Intergraph Corp. which has been implicated in breakdowns of similar systems in San Jose, California and Nassau County.”

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