New York City's 911 system is beset by delays and errors that could leave callers without help for crucial seconds in an emergency, while the city's fire and police departments are not working together to prepare for the surge in calls that would come with a massive crisis such as a terrorist attack, according to a consultant's report report that suggested City Hall managers were given manipulated data on the system.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office released an edited version of the report on Friday. His administration is fighting legal efforts to force it to release earlier versions, and it was not immediately clear how the document had been altered from its draft form. When the New York Post first wrote about the report last month it described a 216-page document, but the version released Friday by the city had 133 pages.
The report, initially prepared by outside consultants hired by the city, found that call operators waste time on duplicative questions and employ inconsistent questioning procedures. The system, it found, sends some responders to the wrong address and slows fire and medical dispatchers' efforts to give instructions to callers.
The report follows a years-long overhaul of the system that included a new $680 million call center that combined the operations of police, fire and medical dispatchers. City officials have said the update improved response times, eliminated inefficiencies and reduced confusion for callers, but Friday's report seemed to call some of those statements into question.
"Statistical information provided to City Hall management to demonstrate the success of the (Unified Call Taking) project contained errors and does not provide a clear picture of the effectiveness of UCT related business processes," the report said.
Unions representing the city's firefighters contend the changes that came with the overhaul caused delays that have been concealed by an accompanying change in how the city calculates its fire response times. City officials dispute that. Because the city has never tracked 911 calls from the moment a caller connects with an operator, it is difficult to tell who is right.
In the report released Friday, the consultants called on the city to change its approach and begin the response-time clock earlier.
"Industry best practices define Public Safety Response Time as the total time from the point a 911 call is made to the arrival of the responding units," the report said.
The consultants also found instances in which the city's fire and police departments failed to work together. The agencies developed their plan to deal with a surge of calls in a crisis without collaborating, even though such an incident usually requires a multi-agency response, the report said. Additionally, the Fire Department's emergency medical managers weren't involved in the development of procedures for police call-takers who now handle medical calls.
"NYPD call takers did not receive adequate training for (Unified Call Taking) responsibilities and are not proficient at handling FDNY related activity," said the report, which also found that fire dispatch personnel were inadequately trained.
In March, the city's comptroller issued an audit criticizing the city for its handling of the entire project, which includes the ongoing creation of a second back-up center. The comptroller said the project was $1 billion over-budget and seven years behind schedule.
But Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway attacked the report as misleading, disputing the figures and arguing that most of the cost increase was due to a strategic decision to build a backup call center from the ground up.
The city has appealed a judge's ruling that it must release the earlier drafts of the report. The case is pending in court.
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