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Some NYC Residents Accusing New York's 911 Call Center of Failing Them During Sandy

November 21, 2012

Times of crisis are when a city’s 911 emergency services are tried, and some New York City residents are accusing the city’s 911 call center of failing badly during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

Survivors of the storm who attempted to call 911 during the storm are saying now that the city was badly unprepared for the disaster, and some are telling tales of lives lost because of 911 non-response.

New York City’s 911 emergency call center was receiving 20,000 calls per hour when Sandy arrived in the area on October 29, and the city’s 1,400 911 dispatchers were overwhelmed despite official claims that they could handle 50,000 calls an hour. The 911 system typically handles 30,000 calls a day.

The New York Post is reporting this week that, among other problems, callers experienced:

911 calls rang and rang unanswered or were greeted by woefully unprepared operators.

Dispatchers from the police, fire and ambulance services feuded with one another.

At times, operators tried to redirect calls to the city’s 311 non-emergency hotline.

The system is not old and outdated; in fact, it’s new and expensive. In 2009, the city allocated approximately $1 billion to overhaul its 911 system. About $680 million was set aside for the building of the 911 call center itself. By the time it was finished, the system wound up costing in the range of $2 billion.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department defended the city’s 911 performance.

“Instead of holding on as instructed by a recording during these peaks, callers hung up and redialed even through the recording cautioned against doing so because it put repeat callers back at the bottom of the queue and furthered overall delays,” spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Post. “Despite repeated requests to the public to use 311 for non-emergencies, many still used 911 for non-life-threatening situations.” 

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Edited by Braden Becker

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