For the first time in city history, 911 emergency call takers and dispatchers from the NYPD, FDNY and Emergency Medical Dispatch services are located on the same floor at the MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn and operating on the same technology to improve inter-agency communications and emergency response.
According to the Mayor's office, the upgraded system has successfully been tested to handle 50,000 calls per hour, which is more than 40 times more than the average daily volume and nine times more than the peak hourly call volume on September 11.
Officials say the new call center will be able to handle a queue of as many as 1,900 emergency calls – up from 500 in 2001.
The upgraded system now provides call takers with onscreen maps of the caller’s location and critical redundancy to the city’s emergency communications infrastructure to ensure delivery of the more than 11 million 911 calls received each year.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement last Thursday, January 5, at the city’s Public Safety Answering Center, located in MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
“Since the system was created in the 1960s, callers to 911 had to, in effect, ask for help three different times at three different call centers that had no automated way to share data and work together,” Bloomberg said. “We now have all of the city’s emergency response agencies in one place and on the same system, with state-of-the-art technology that can handle the large number of calls we see during big emergencies.”
In 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (a.k.a the September 11 Commission) concluded that on September 11, 2001, the phone system's operators and dispatchers were unaware that fire chiefs were evacuating the Twin Towers because the city had no way of relaying that information.
As panicked people called 911 seeking guidance on how to escape the 110-story buildings, some of the operators answering the phones told workers not to evacuate.
The commission, which was created in 2002 to study the terror attacks and make recommendations designed to prevent future attacks, concluded that an unknown number of victims might have had a chance of survival if 911 operators had not told workers to move upwards in the towers.
Now, all of the city's more than 1,500 call takers are using the same technology for the first time. And the integration of NYPD and FDNY computer-aided dispatch systems are allowing 911 operators to automatically route an incident directly to the FDNY via data link.
The improved data sharing, including the immediate availability of emergency data to the NYPD, FDNY and EMS, allows for the better coordination of resources.
The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) provided the IT expertise to help complete the center. The department builds and maintains the IT backbone of many of the supporting operations of agencies citywide, said DoITT commissioner Carole Post.
“The technologies in place at the 911 center underscore the extent of New York City’s digital transformation by supporting the growing demands on 911 for the coming generation,” she said.
The modernization of the city’s 911 system, which is known as the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, began in 2004 and has streamlined emergency call-taking and dispatch operations, helping the city’s first responders improve coordination and react faster – at record low response time levels.
The system has also installed Automated Vehicle Locator technology in emergency response vehicles.
Renovations and upgrades at existing communications offices in Queens and the Bronx, which will house backup emergency 911 operations for the FDNY, has also been completed.
The move of all NYPD 911 call takers and dispatchers onto the third floor of the Public Safety Answering Center in Brooklyn was completed last month. FDNY personnel moved to the location in August 2009, and the Emergency Medical Dispatch moved there in June 2010.
According to the mayor's office, as of New Years Day, the City has received over 1.2 million 911 calls on the new system.
The second major phase of the project is the ongoing construction of the City’s Public Safety Answering Center II facility in the Bronx, scheduled to be completed in 2015. The second call answering center will operate in conjunction with the current facility in Downtown Brooklyn, with each having the capacity to support the entirety of the city’s 911 operations in the event of an emergency.