WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Since the September 11 attacks, New York City has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade its 911 call system and its emergency radio communications to try and correct the inadequacies documented by the 9/11 Commission and other expert reviews.
A City Council panel wanted to know how far the Bloomberg administration had actually gotten on what was estimated to be a $2 billion dollar, multi-year effort, which has run into time delays and major cost overruns.
Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway told the City Council Tuesday that the city now has state of the art radio communications between the police and fire departments, which permits them to better coordinate their emergency response. He added the city had "become a model of voice interoperability, but we are leading the nation through the development of our state of the art wireless data network, built exclusively for the use of city agencies."
But Council Technology Committee chair Elizabeth Crowley said she's still concerned about gaps in radio communications in high rises and subways, settings that proved problematic on September 11.
"What this hearing has indicated is that there are still unresolved problems, that the Fire Department and the administration has come along way in the past ten years but there is still a ways to go," Crowley said in an interview after the hearing.
Public Safety Council Committee chair Peter Vallone was pleased by the amount of progress on the integration of the City's emergency services into a unified incident command. But he did raise concerns about the continued delay of the City's 911 center for the public's emergency calls, as well as a planned back-up system for 911 slated for the Bronx.
On September 11, people stranded on floors of the World Trade Center were not able to get useful and timely information from 911 operators on their best course of action. Under the Bloomberg administration's re-design FDNY and NYPD dispatching operations will be housed on the same floor which is expected to improve their collective situational awareness.
"One of the things they wanted to do was put all of the agencies on one floor of the command center so that there would be better coordination within 911 as to what was going on because everybody would be located in the same place," Vallone said. "That has yet to happen because of problems installing the technology."
City officials told Vallone that problems with the development of key software needed for the City's upgrade of its antiquated 911 call system had finally been resolved over the summer.
Holloway said that Verizon had delivered on its promise to work out glitches with the soft ware so the city can fully integrate police, fire and EMS dispatching.
"It has taken a long time; however, we were not going to switch over to a new 911 system until we knew the new one was going to work," Holloway said
The Bloomberg administration now projects the new system will be fully operational in early November, after they train 911 employees and supervisors how to use it. As for the Bronx back-up system for 911, Holloway said a foundation had been poured and construction work continued, but he did not have a completion date.