November 3, 2014

New York City’s 911 Computer Glitches, Forces Dispatchers To Call Ambulances via Radio

New York City's 911 center had to send ambulances out to calls via radios after part of the computer system went down Monday, the FDNY says.

Part of New York City’s troubled 911 system crashed Monday, forcing EMS operators to rely on old-fashioned radios to communicate with ambulances out in the field, the Daily News has learned.

The 911 computer system that automatically assigns available ambulances to respond to medical calls around the five boroughs went on the blink about 2:15 p.m., the Fire Department confirmed.

It was back up by about 4:05 p.m., the FDNY said.

During the outage, EMS dispatchers had resorted to writing 911 calls on paper and assigning ambulances via radio.

The glitch caused some chaos at 911’s command center at MetroTech in Brooklyn, sources said. Calls piled up and operators struggled to keep up with demand.

Without the computerized tracking system, the 911 dispatchers had no way of knowing at a glance where all available units were or what calls they were handling, sources said.

Not all the operators had the experience to handle the stress, said one source, who described the training as “poor.”

Cops responding to an assault near 333 Georgia Ave. in Brooklyn were forced to throw a wounded man into the back of a police van when EMS couldn’t be reached, The News learned.

Witness Damian Williams, 26, said his friend had just gotten off the L train when he was attacked by two men wielding a metal object.

The two men fled when nearby housing cops responded to the victim, who was shaky and dizzy, Williams said.

“I called 911, because I didn't see any ambulances, they were trying to connect me over to EMS and no one was picking up,” the frantic friend said.

“I said (to the operator) there's an incident, they said they'd connect me to EMS ... but all I heard was ringing no one picked up so I finally hung up,” Williams said.

The cops who responded to the injured man decided they couldn’t wait any longer and bundled him into the back of a police van. They put some cardboard underneath him in a vain attempt to stabilize him.

He was brought to Bellevue, where EMS workers ran over to help the cops safely get him inside.

FDNY spokesman Jim Long said that extra staff was brought to handle the call flow. The cause of the system crash wasn’t immediately clear, he said.

The FDNY has struggled with its 911 system in recent years as a Bloomberg-era plan to overhaul the system got bogged down with consultants, contractors and other expensive delays.

A series of costly errors and glitches prompted the city’s Department of Investigation to launch its own probe of the beleaguered emergency system.

In a damning 21-page report released Oct. 21, DOI said its investigation “exposed an antiquated, unwieldy system for dispatching ambulances to the scene of an active fire that substantially increases the opportunity for human error.”

DOI started looking into 911 after a series of missteps on an April 19 emergency call that left two youngsters dead.

On that night, a Saturday, a call for help from a fire scene was sent to FDNY at 11:51 p.m.. But an ambulance didn’t arrive at the scene until 12:12 a.m. on Easter Sunday.

In the excruciating minutes in between, no fewer than seven individuals were involved in passing the call from the NYPD to the FDNY and finally to EMS, the report found.

Half-siblings Jai'Launi and Aniya Tinglin, both 4, were killed in the fire. Also injured in the blaze were Jai'Launi's twin sister, and an adult woman and an adult male.