Mayor de Blasio halts massive, troubled 9-1-1 overhaul
Call Center in Downtown Brooklyn scene of tech glitches, overruns
After years of massive cost overruns, delays, allegations of fraud and technical problems, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that a $2 billion overhaul of the city’s 9-1-1 system would be halted and the entire project reviewed in what the administration is calling a “sweeping multi-agency examination.”
The Emergency Communications Technology Project, a signature initiative of the Bloomberg administration, was designed to centralize the dispatch operations of the NYPD, FDNY and EMS.
The 9-1-1 call center is located in Downtown Brooklyn, with a backup in the Bronx. Dispatchers have complained of software crashes and lost data.
As Public Advocate, de Blasio complained that the 9-1-1 system failed to keep up with call volume during Hurricane Sandy. In a letter to then-Mayor Bloomberg, de Blasio cited the system’s failure to manage fewer than half the calls for which it was designed. During the crisis, many callers experienced hold times of over an hour. Some gave up on 9-1-1 altogether.
The project was budgeted at $1.3 billion dollars and was supposed to take five years. By May 2012, it was still incomplete and was running nearly $1 billion dollars over budget.
Technical glitches have plagued the project, which is rolling out in phases. After one $88 million update was put in place last year, the center began to experience so many failures that 9-1-1 operators were forced to write emergency information by hand on slips of paper for runners to race to dispatchers, according to the public employee union.
On Monday, the Mayor said a review that he began soon after taking office uncovered “additional technical design, systems integration and project management risks beyond the previously publicly documented challenges.”
The project was contracted out to Intergraph Corp. in 2008. According to published reports, similar ICAD software put in place by Intergraph in San Jose, California and in Nassau County also experienced system failures.
“Our number one priority is protecting the safety of all New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “That means not only fixing the problems that have for too long plagued the ECTP, but also addressing new issues that demand immediate corrective action. The critical steps we are taking today will ensure that the new emergency communications system is operationally, technologically and financially prepared to protect future generations here in New York City.”
In 2013, then-Comptroller John Liu found the project was seven years behind schedule and $1 billion over budget. Current Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement on Monday, “My office’s audit division will focus on lapses in management and financial control, which allowed the cost of the last upgrade of the 911 system to spiral continually upward.”
The Department of Investigation has been asked to conduct an independent review, the Mayor said.
On Sunday, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris issued a directive describing the Mayor’s action to the leadership of NYPD, FDNY, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Office of Citywide Emergency Communications.
The Office of Citywide Emergency Communications, which currently manages the project, will be temporarily assigned to report to the incoming Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Anne Roest.
Roest will be assembling a team of experts to review the project, with a report due in July.
All major expenditures and major system changes for the project will be halted, and no contracts will be awarded, the Mayor’s Office said.
Incoming Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro and Police Commissioner Bill Braton applauded the move. “The new system’s problems have been well-documented, and we must get this right,” Nigro said.
“Our city has one of the most complex and expansive emergency communications system in the nation, and it is critical that it works both operationally and financially for the people of New York,” said Bratton.
Public Advocate Letitia James also weighed in. “I believe the safety and security of all New Yorkers is paramount. This means we need a 911 system that is effective and consistent,” she said.
“The fire officers of New York City are elated to be dealing with an administration that does not try to scrape complaints under the rug, and when they become aware of a problem, they deal with it,” said Alexander Hagan, President of Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
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