Why 911 Needs an Overhaul

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a halt to and review of the 911 call system overhaul, which is already more than a billion dollars over budget. WNYC's Brigid Bergin and Robert Gearty report on some of the problems with the new system that was intended to improve response times. 


Brigid Bergin and Robert Gearty

Comments [20]

Newyorker from New York City

Forgot to mention that New York City (among other cities and towns in the US) is one of the few places in the so called "civilized" world where there are no house or building numbers on buildings unless the builder or owner decides to put them there. Same for street signs. If you look they are not on all four corners and most of the time, if there are cross streets, the signs are missing. How are you supposed to know where you are, especially in an unfamiliar neighborhood. How are police or firefighters supposed to go to that address? In Europe and other countries there are street signs on corner buildings with the house numbers on that particular block with arrows pointing to the direction of the numbers. There should be a law to number all buildings and have street signs visible on all four corners. Let's move from the 19th Century into the 21st!

May. 22 2014 04:49 PM
hillbilly tip #1

@ Christopher Caines -- if you get beat up run away. Jesus.

May. 22 2014 03:14 PM
Paul from Brooklyn

Your investigative reporters are combining two different issues, you've got cost overruns on the UCT System upgrade and the other issue is operator errors. Out of millions of calls unfortunate errors occur some due to operator mistakes and others a result of similar named streets that sound alike and difficult computer inputs because unless streets that don't intersect are seen by system as incorrect. The fire officers are using these problems I believe to save jobs.

May. 22 2014 11:34 AM
Ghost of a 1st Responder from Hell

Unbelievable! 13 years after 9-11 and they STILL have no clue.

But hey, at least we have more and more and more and more luxury condos!!! Yay NYC!! Got your priorities straight.

May. 22 2014 11:18 AM
john from office

Bob, you just made my point for me, thank you. i never lived on SI.

May. 22 2014 10:34 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

When I am confronted by aggressive drunks when walking home from the subway late at night, I call in to 911. I am asked for my address, even though the drunks are outside on Queens Boulevard sidewalk, not in my apartment. I do not want the police to come to me to deal with a problem that's outside, not inside.

May. 22 2014 10:28 AM

@ John from Office: "To not know where and what Highland Blvd is amazing." Actually it's Hylan Blvd, not "Highland". If you were the operator, the fire trucks would never have arrived. Hope you don't live in a glass house.

May. 22 2014 10:23 AM
Christopher Caines from Now live in Manhattan

I had a horrendous experience of 911 dispatcher incompetence a few years ago when I was assaulted by a gang of young Bloods in the East Williamsburg Industrial Park, where I lived in my artist's loft at the time. On a dark and deserted street a block from my home, I was suddenly surrounded by about ten boys, aged I think 12 to 18, who demanded my money. I resisted and fled, and was only a little beat up. As soon as I could, I called 911. The idiot 911 operator instructed me to WALK BACK TO THE SITE OF THE ASSAULT TO VERIFY THAT MY ASSAILANTS WERE STILL THERE. I was so crazed with stress that I followed her instructions. When the gang saw me, they started racing toward me to attack me again. How utterly incompetent could a person be to give an gang assault victim that instruction. My subsequent experience with the local police only compounded the horribleness of this traumatic experience—but that's another story.

May. 22 2014 10:22 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Sounds like it would help to have the 911 operators ask callers to specify whether the location they're giving is their own or the site of the emergency (if they're different). But another factor may be that having another layer btwn. the caller & the dept. that needs to respond takes more time than connecting directly to that dept.

May. 22 2014 10:20 AM
Chrissy Sakes from Williamsburg, Bklyn

About a year ago I dislocated my arm on the subway. I got off at the Marcy JMZ stop, and my husband and several other people placed increasingly urgent calls to 911. When the EMTs finally arrived an hour later, they said the computer system had sent them to 2 different neighborhoods around Brooklyn. Naturally, when I tried to file a complaint with the city, they denied everything and said it was just because they had more important cases to deal with.

May. 22 2014 10:19 AM
steve from Manhattan

One problem I find is that 911 operators seem to live in another state (or world) -- they know nothing about NYC geography... I reported a car that hit a woman and baby at "Central Park West and 96th Street" -- and the first question was "is that Manhattan?" and the second question "is that West 96th or East 96th?". As one of the first on the scene, I was trying to help the child and nanny who were hit, and this was taking so much unnecessary time -- there is only ONE Central Park, and Central Park West is obviously west...

May. 22 2014 10:14 AM
Dee from NJ

I heard that whole conversation yesterday and it was chilling. That operator sounded completely illiterate. She sounded like she had been woken from a nap.

May. 22 2014 10:14 AM
Chris Garvey from highway, water, or RR unknown to 911

NY is surrounded by water, but 911 doesn't know the names of their waters.

May. 22 2014 10:14 AM
Ruth from NYC

— I forgot to add to my previous post that I have also phoned the police on several occasions from my home in Central Harlem to no avail. The first time was in the middle of the afternoon on a summer weekend and a young boy of 12 or 13 ran down my street in fear of a man who he said was menacingly chasing him through Mt. Morris Park. I had him sit on the steps of our brownstone and wait while I phoned for police to investigate. We waited 30 minutes and finally he calmed down enough to walk home. I tried to stop a police car driving down my street and they would have run me over if I had not jumped out of the way.

May. 22 2014 10:12 AM

John, it's not the operator. The operator must be able to put info into the computer, and the computer must find it. Unless you want to go back to the last century. If the computer is not programed correctly, we're all screwed. If it's up to the operator, there's no way to get Every call correct. No amount of training will get to 100%. It's all about the programming.

If this isn't the great stain on Bloomberg, then I don't know what is. He should be tarred and feather in the public square.

May. 22 2014 10:12 AM
shashinyc from Manhattan

Other cities and states subscribe to a service call Safe911, which automatically transmits to the 911 operator's computer screen pertinent information about the caller that the caller has provided when registering. It could be anything from how many people live in the house, their medical conditions/meds, number of pets...anything the EMS team or FDNY or police might need to know. It's an amazing other cities, New York should sign up for it -- t should be added to the 911 overhaul package. And no, this is not a paid advertisement. I just know a good thing when I see it.

May. 22 2014 10:10 AM
Ruth from NYC

Friends ask me what it's like living in Harlem. I tell them quite honestly that it's lovely so long as you don't need an ambulance or the police. Soon after moving to Central Harlem, I waited 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at a Fine Fair supermarket to come to the aid of a man having what appeared to be an epileptic fit.

May. 22 2014 10:05 AM
Newyorker from New York City

I can't believe the illiteracy of the operator talking to that poor nun calling about the fire in Staten Island at St. joseph Hill Academy. Isn't there any training? Seems not. Unbelievable!

May. 22 2014 10:03 AM
Chris Garvey from highway, water, or RR unknown to 911

In the 1980's a we came across a man having a heart attack on the beach on the West side of City Island. The Doctor in our group called 911 and handed me his cell phone. 911 insisted on the nearest intersection, which was a long block away from the beach. 911 refused to recognize the existence of Eastchester Bay, or its beach. I walked to City Island Ave. so I could direct the ambulance after it arrived at the wrong location.

A few years ago I tried reporting a stalled car on the Long Island Expressway by exit number and name. They insisted on knowing what borough I was in, though being near the Brooklyn-Queens border I didn't know. The LIE and its exits were incomprehensible to the operator.

Children in a rowboat sinking off City Island in City Island Harbor called 911 and the Operator failed to report their location. They all drowned.

Just South of the recent Spuyten Duyvil derailment, The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is a swing bridge that carries Amtrak's Empire Corridor line across the Spuyten Duyvil Creek between Manhattan and the Bronx. I called 911 to report that the bridge operator had abandoned his post with the bridge closed, illegally blocking all navigation from the Harlem River. 911 had no idea where this Bridge was, nor the Hudson River, nor the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, nor the railroad, nor the latitude and longitude.

May. 22 2014 10:01 AM
john from office

Part of the problem here highlighted by listening to the 911 call involving the convent, is that the 911 operators don't know the city well. The operators need to be paid better and made into more of a profession. They need training about the city and it's many streets and area names. To not know where and what Highland Blvd is amazing.

The operators need to be better trained, paid and fired if they are not able to do their job.

I was reporting an open manhole cover on the FDR drive a few weeks ago and the amount of time it took for the operator to simply understand the danger was unacceptable.

May. 22 2014 08:41 AM

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