NYC 911 center criticized for Sandy dispatch mistakes
Charges that duplicate calls had responders unable to respond to real emergencies
By Josh Margolin
The New York Post
NEW YORK — Superstorm Sandy flooded the city's new $2 billion 911 system with thousands of duplicate calls — sending firefighters on wild-goose chases that kept them from responding to real life-threatening alarms, sources told The Post yesterday.
Of the 7,377 calls received by the FDNY as the storm hammered the city on Oct. 29, only 1,945 were legitimate, internal documents show. The rest were duplicates that dispatchers had to weed out of the system, sometimes after trucks were already speeding to a location where first responders had been sent.
Things were a little better the next day, once the storm had passed — but not much: 6,209 calls were received, and 2,236 of them were real emergencies.
"We were inundated," said John Veneziano, vice president of the dispatchers union. "We were sending out alarms we shouldn't be going on. The [new 911 network] was flooding our system.''
Mayor Bloomberg has acknowledged the system was deluged with about 10 times the average number of police and fire calls. But he did not address the havoc caused by the new system — which he continues to support.
New procedures require 911 operators to act on all calls, before anyone determines they're not duplicates or even hoaxes.
In the old system, fire dispatchers first would figure out whether calls were valid before sending trucks out.
A 911 source told The Post that the fear of duplicate calls was discussed by city officials in the days leading up to the storm.
But they knew there was nothing they could do as Sandy bore down on the city.
"It's not a surprise," the source said. "That has been a problem since the start. They've gone through many emergency incidents, and they still can't solve this problem."
The new Unified Call Taker was supposed to streamline 911 by merging separate dispatch systems run by the NYPD and FDNY. But it has become a major embarrassment for City Hall, nearly collapsing during the Christmas blizzard of 2010.
Afterward, Bloomberg commissioned a review of the system that led to the release of a scathing report — first revealed last spring by The Post — that said response times have actually slowed since it was put into place.
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