New York’s 911 emergency phone system, started in 1968, is set for an overhaul. The New York Times says that New Yorkers last year dialed 911 an average of 23 times every minute. The paper describes the system as it has evolved as a “brittle contraption – fragmented, uncoordinated, and in parts, dangerously obsolete and vulnerable.” New Yorkers have been paying telephone surcharges to improve 911 since 1992, but various studies have concluded that the city has little to show for the $280 million from those charges.
Callers to 911 often must provide the same details twice, but they can receive a deluge of rescuers when only a few are needed. Police computers automatically display the addresses of 911 callers, but fire dispatchers cannot see that information. The Times says that dispatchers are so isolated geographically, technologically and managerially that they must sometimes dial 911 themselves to communicate across agency lines.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to consolidate the city’s eight dispatching operations, bringing all the services into two identical centers working on the same computer system. Former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was unable to accomplish that.
The Times says no one disputes that 911 is a “rickety gateway” that handles 12 million calls a year intended for public safety agencies that employ about 60,000.