NYC's Mismanaged Plan To Upgrade Emergency System 2 Years Late, $700M Over Budget

NY Daily News - October 21, 2009

by Juan Gonzalez

Mayor Bloomberg's $1.3 billion plan to modernize the city's 911 system is two years late, plagued by poor management and bad equipment, and has ballooned in cost to more than $2 billion, the Daily News has learned.

Launched in the summer of 2005, the Emergency Communications Transformation Project was supposed to centralize call-and-dispatch operations for police, fire and emergency medical services into a single state-of-the-art computerized system.

Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who oversees the project, has called it one of the Bloomberg administration's top initiatives.

"We are taking the city's archaic 911 system into the 21st century," Skyler said.

But a host of problems dogged the project from the start - none of which s have been publicly acknowledged. Among them:

- Renovation of a single floor at 11 MetroTech in downtown Brooklyn, primary location of the new 911 operation, skyrocketed from $80 million to $166 million.

- Construction and outfitting of a second 911 center in the Bronx doubled to $1 billion. The site, to be done by 2013, will be the city's backup emergency communications center in case the Brooklyn site is destroyed. City Hall kept the price down by scrapping floors earmarked for a second emergency center.

- NYPD operators, who were to move into the Brooklyn 911 center March 1, 2008, will not relocate there until next March, Skyler said. That's because subcontractor Motorola failed to give the NYPD an adequate computer software dispatch system. The city recouped $32 million from that and got another vendor.

- EMS operators, who were to move into 11 MetroTech in March, have not done so because of bugs in Verizon's phone system, Skyler said.

Only fire dispatchers from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan have relocated into the new 911 center.

"Each of the agencies - fire, police and EMS - keeps resisting the merger and making new demands," said a city official who has been on the project for years.

Because of historic conflicts between the three departments, City Hall gave the projects to the techies at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

DoITT's commissioner at the time, Gino Menchini, gave Hewlett-Packard a $380 million contract to oversee a consortium of vendors that would design and erect the new system. Those vendors included Northrop Grumman, Verizon and Motorola.

Within months, virtually every aspect of the project was experiencing delays. Costs started to mushroom, with scores of computer consultants coming on board, many at annual salaries of $300,000 to $500,000.

Things fell so far behind schedule the city asked its quality control consultant, Gartner Group, to find out what was happening.

Gartner's report, issued to top officials in March 2007, said the city was "losing $2 million a month," from mismanagement.

It called the ballooning costs of a new "logging and recording system" for the NYPD "ludicrous."

A few weeks later, DoITT Commissioner Paul Cosgrave urged Skyler in a secret memo to dump Hewlett-Packard.

"DoITT has recommended and our partners at NYPD and FDNY have concurred that we should put the ECTP contract up for rebid," Cosgrave wrote.

In an April 13, 2007, memo, Skyler overruled Cosgrave and ordered that all major components of the project be completed or underway "by the end of 2009," which happened to be the end of Bloomberg's second term in office. That was before the mayor decided to overturn term limits and run again.

"Achieving these goals will make it very difficult for a future administration to cancel this project and, conversely, not achieving them will put this vital public-safety initiative at risk," Skyler wrote.

"NYPD will move into the new [Public Safety Answering Center] 1 by March 1, 2008," Skyler wrote. "FDNY and EMS will move in by March 1, 2009," and he ordered groundbreaking on the Bronx site by July 1, 2009.

Of all deadlines, only the Fire Department has even come close.

"There have been challenges that we've overcome," Skyler said. "It's an ambitious project. We are trying to bring together the different demands or requirements from agencies that never worked together in this area.

"Would we like it to be faster and less expensive? Yes, but we are making progress."