New York City holds hearing on 911 glitches

June 21, 2013 3:22:42 PM PDT
New York City officials said Friday they will further investigate the delay in responding to the scene of a car crash where a 4-year-old girl was crushed.

At a City Council hearing looking into claims the city's new, $2 billion emergency response system is not working properly, Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said they believe the technology worked during the emergency, and that human error was most likely responsible for a four-minute delay in response time.

Police said Ariel Russo was struck by an unlicensed teenager fleeing police on June 4. The teen had taken his parent's car without permission, was stopped by police for reckless driving and took off, police said. He has been charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said shortly after the crash that there had been a delay, but he believed it was human error. Emergency dispatch and other union officials say it was a system problem, coming on the heels of several other glitches that lasted up to an hour at a time.

On Friday, Holloway said they continued to investigate.

"The technology worked," he said, adding they would make any necessary changes once the investigation is completed.

It's not clear if the delay would have saved the girl's life. Her parents were scheduled to speak to the City Council later Friday.

Holloway had heated exchanges with City Council members over whether the new system was working properly, and he came armed with a 38-page presentation explaining how the city's emergency system works, why it needed to be upgraded and where the city was in the process. The city's emergency response system is more than three decades old and the effort to upgrade it started in 2004.

He said it was "the first substantial effort to modernize" the nation's largest 911 system, and now "response times have never been better."

Firefighter's union officials disagreed, grumbling loudly and shouting profanities from their audience seats.

The recent glitches occurred during the upgrade of one piece of the system used by the New York Police Department. Essentially, monitors at dispatcher workstations would freeze and had to be reset, forcing dispatchers to record calls with paper and pen.

Holloway said small hiccups were to be expected modernizing such a large system but they were few and far between.

He also said the city is now able to track response times better by measuring how long it takes from when the call comes into the system to when an emergency responder makes it to the scene. Response times were previously calculated from the time crews were dispatched, but lawmakers had been asking for years for a more precise measurement.