First responders have problems with new 911 system

The Investigators on Eyewitness News on WABC-TV New York

June 11, 2013 2:41:49 PM PDT
There are serious questions about the new 911dispatch system in New York City.

Complaints are piling up.

Some blame human error while others fault glitches in the computer system.

The city has paid one billion dollars more than the original cost for its new 911 dispatch, the least taxpayers could expect is that it's accurate.

But documents Eyewitness News has reviewed show repeated problems with wrong addresses from a system where minutes can determine life or death.

The number of complaints filed since 2010 by first responders about the new 911 system stands four feet high.

"Literally thousands upon thousands," said Jim Hoffer, Eyewitness News investigative reporter.

"That's correct," said Lt. Jim McGowan, of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

A union spokesman for the Fire Officers Association says by far, most of the complaints center on emergency dispatch to wrong locations.

"Fire officers who are getting wrong addresses, wrong intersections, wrong apartment buildings," McGowan said.

Eyewitness News analyzed the last six months of some of the firefighters' 911 complaint logs. They detail one ''delayed response'' after another due to ''wrong addresses".

In March, fire units were dispatched to a "gas leak" that was "a mile away" from the actual location. That same month, 911 dispatched fire units to a wrong address at "Battery Place". A fire lieutenant wrote, "After extensive and time consuming searches members located the fire approximately 6 blocks away".

Three days later, EMS is given an ''erroneous address" for a man having "seizures". The first responder states, "9 minutes later", they received a ''corrected address", upon arrival found "a 24-year-old male facedown actively seizing''.

And, last month, fire trucks were mistakenly sent to a burglary.

Last New Year's Eve, firefighters got called to a 3-alarm fire in the Bronx. Three people died, including a 12-year-old boy. A first responder filed a dispatch complaint saying the call had "possible address problems".

"We need to make sure this doesn't happen again," City Councilman Peter Vallone said.

The Chair of City Council's Public Safety Committee says he is troubled by the first responders' wrong addresses. He wonders if it's due in part to a 911 system that has three different mapping systems.

"It could be the fact that there are different maps being used by the fire department, police department and EMS and sometimes the addresses don't translate from one map to another," Vallone said.

More than a year ago, Mayor Bloomberg's commissioned report on the 911 system warned that the three different mapping systems could cause "mismatches'', "wrong addresses'', and warned that "NYPD and "FDNY" should "develop a single mapping solution."

"What's your big concern?" Hoffer asked.

"The safety of my members and the public," McGowan said.

"That serious," Hoffer said.

"Yeah, I think it is, I do," McGowan said.

The Mayor defends his $2 billion dispatch system, saying response times are faster and fire deaths are dropping, and he blames problems to gripes and glitches.

"The system has some bugs in it, all new systems have bugs, we got a back up and you wish you didn't have bugs but that's the real world," Mayor Bloomberg said.

Eyewitness News has learned that the FDNY and EMS have synchronized their separate mapping systems.

But The NYPD has totally different mapping software. The Mayor's office tells Eyewitness News, the goal is to eventually unify police and fire dispatch maps.


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