A report released yesterday only slightly improved the outlook for a major overhaul of New York City’s 911 emergency response system, a project that spanned 10 years, cost hundreds of millions more than expected, and been marred by poor management and infighting among city agencies.
The word “boondoggle” has been thrown around quite a bit since the Emergency Communications Transformation Program was announced in 2004, and not just because it’s a really fun word to say. It’s because the program was supposed be finished by 2006, and now isn’t projected to be completed until May 2017, according to the latest report, which was requested by mayor Bill de Blasio and carried out by the city’s department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. That’s actually an improvement from a predicted completion date of 2018 announced this spring.
The plan was initiated by former mayor Michael Bloomberg in the aftermath of 9/11. The antiquated emergency call system was blamed for slowing communication between the city’s various responding agencies.
One of the project’s primary goals was to integrate the 911 system. Previously, all 911 calls were routed to the NYPD so the caller could explain their problem. If they were reporting a fire, NYPD would then have to patch in FDNY — literally initiate a conference call — and the caller would have to provide their information all over again, slowing things down. Now all agencies have access to the same calls, shaving time off of the process; and every second counts in an emergency.
That integration was achieved in 2009, but other objectives — like making the system fully redundant, with duplicate infrastructure housed in two separate facilities — are still in the works.
The most recent report doesn’t reveal a great deal of progress since the last update, released in 2012. And that’s kind of the problem. The management of the project is still disorganized — “overall governance” is cited as a chief challenge — and costs still can’t be fully assessed at the moment.
A 2012 audit released by then-comptroller John Liu, in strikingly familiar language, also found “defective governance” of the project to be a major problem. The DoITT has been running the effort — along with half a dozen other city agencies — but too much reliance on consultants was also held up as a major impediment, both in 2012 and this time around.
Here are a few more fun facts from the report:
“Components of the program were designed in a way that will not support development of the latest 911 technology standards, (known as NextGen 911), and will require obsolete technology to be replaced…”
“To date there has been no detailed, comprehensive budgetary planning for ongoing maintenance costs …”
“A lack of reconciliation with the City’s Financial Management System (FMS) resulted in the inaccurate tracking of spent and unspent funds …”
See the full report on the next page.