NYC agency calls for better management, oversight in beleaguered 911 modernization project


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NEW YORK — A decade-long, $2 billion-plus project to modernize New York City's emergency 911 system has been plagued by poor management, shoddy oversight and a lack of planning, according to a report released Wednesday by the city's Department of Investigation.

The project, known as the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, "has suffered from significant mismanagement which at times was nothing short of governmental malpractice," agency Commissioner Mark Peters said.

The report, which stems from a review Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration had asked for earlier this year, makes recommendations for how the project should move forward, including having one person leading it and making executive decisions. It also said there should be an integrity monitor to identify potential fraud and waste.

"We have identified the problems that have long plagued the ECTP, and we're committed to taking the necessary corrective action to ensure the program is brought back on track, within our means and ahead of schedule," de Blasio said.

The city began the effort to modernize its 911 system in 2004. The need became tragically clear during the Sept. 11 attacks when different city agencies' systems were unable to communicate with each other.

A new system with easier technology, an upgraded call center and a new backup call center were all part of the plan, with the backup center running by December 2015. But the de Blasio administration halted work and called for a review after being told in May that the date had been pushed back to 2018 and at least an additional $100 million would be needed.

The system also had a major glitch in May 2013, when operators had to use pen and paper to relay emergencies to dispatchers because of a system stall at least three different times over two days.

And the city's 911 response came under question after an unlicensed 17-year-old driver's car jumped a curb while fleeing police in June 2013, critically injuring a 4-year-old girl who died at a hospital after a delay in processing calls for an ambulance. The incident spurred legislative changes to response-time tracking and fueled the debate over the 911 system, though a report in December attributed the four-minute lag to a dispatcher's lapse, not a technological problem.

In the meantime, a passing firefighter and rescuers from a flagged-down ambulance attended to the unconscious Ariel Russo on the street, and the response time ultimately was faster than average, the report noted. The dispatcher was disciplined; the driver has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.

According to the most recent review, the modernization project has suffered from disputes between the involved agencies, like the Police Department and the Fire Department being allowed to develop their own dispatch systems instead of having a unified one, as well as lack of planning about the program's specifications and objectives.

The recommendations would create a framework for the project's major components to be completed in 2016, with the full project done in 2017. Those recommendations also included cutting back on consultants and reducing the number of vendors associated with the project.

Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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