De Blasio Orders Second Review of City’s 911 System

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Councilmember Liz Crowley, Public Advocate Tish James and fire union leaders calling for the end of unified call taking through 911

A week after he called a halt to new spending on an upgrade to the city's 911 emergency response system, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that his administration is launching an additional review, this time of the current system's operations.

The announcement came at the same time city officials testified before a City Council committee about those operations. The hearing followed a series of reports on WNYC that detailed problems with a process known as Unified Call Taking. 

De Blasio said the second review would focus on all the existing 911 system’s operations.

“We know for sure that the big vision for technological change has not been working and has not been working on schedule," de Blasio told reporters at an unrelated press conference. "We’re going to rework all that, which means obviously, you have to make sure your existing system is good for the foreseeable future, until you can come up with the long-term solution.”

Last week, the administration suspended any new contracts or spending on the $2.1 billion upgrade project. That order called on the city’s Department of Investigation and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to conduct a 60 day review of the long-term system upgrade.

Several councilmembers, along with members of the city's fire unions, are calling on the administration to change how 911 calls are currently processed. They argue that police operators who answer 911 calls should just ask what the emergency is — and not where it is or other details — before a fire or EMS dispatcher comes on the line.

The mayor's director of operations told the Council hearing the city would test that process during the review.

“We want to take a critical emergency response system and get it as close to perfect as we can,” said Mindy Tarlow, Director of the Mayor's Office of Operations. “That's what we're here to do and that's what this review is designed to do.”

Earlier Friday, councilmembers and leaders of the city's fire and EMS unions rallied at City Hall to call for immediate changes. But Tarlow said there is no end date set for the operations review.