Mayor's Office Boasts Controversial New 911 Dispatching System's Error Rate Of Less Than 1%

NY Daily News - December 11, 2009

by Jonathan Lemire

The controversial new 911 dispatching system has an error rate of less than 1% - and is working just fine, the mayor's office said Thursday in a vigorous defense of a change critics say is putting lives at risk.

About 175,000 911 calls have been made to the new $2 billion Unified Call Taker system since May, officials said. The UCT cuts out fire dispatchers and sends fire calls directly to the city's rescue units.

Complaints have been filed in connection to 1,800 of those calls, and 175 have been deemed as valid mistakes made by the UCT, Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler told a contentious City Council hearing Thursday.

"It saves time, valuable time, because you only have to talk to one person, not two," said Skyler, who said FDNY response times have dropped 10 seconds this year. "Every second counts."

Prior to the UCT's inception in May, a caller reporting a fire to 911 would be conferenced with an FDNY dispatcher who would then send out the appropriate units.

After the change, callers only deal with an NYPD operator who deploys fire units without the help of FDNY dispatchers.

"Can police call takers do just as good a job as a fire call taker?" asked Skyler to hoots and hollers from the audience. "We believe the answer is yes."

Fire dispatchers resumed listening in on calls last month after three people died in a Crown Heights, Brooklyn, blaze when 911 callers provided bad information. Response to a Nov. 9 fire in Woodside, Queens, that killed three was delayed by five minutes because a 911 operator keyed in the wrong address.

"It doesn't matter how fast you respond, if you respond to the wrong address," said City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx).

The fire unions said the FDNY is distorting UCT's statistics by not factoring in the moments a caller is on with the NYPD dispatcher when calculating response times.

"These numbers are lies and the UCT system remains a sham," said fire union head Steve Cassidy. "These delays matter to people caught in a fire."