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Operators Criticize NYC’s 911 System

September 15, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ The city’s 911 emergency system is a poorly run mess, with some callers left waiting on the line for help, operators testified Wednesday.

Despite official claims that the system is the best in the nation, it has been under scrutiny since January, when a man died of a heart attack while his girlfriend dialed 911 three times but got only busy signals.

Operators complained to a City Council committee about working up to 16 hours a day, high absentee and job turnover rates, antiquated equipment, a shortage of Spanish-speaking operators and generally low morale.

``The system goes down 10 to 15 times a day,″ said Barbara Terrelonge, a 911 system technician. ``This is happening every single day on every single shift.″

Operator Diane Mickowski told the committee that because there are so few Spanish-speaking operators, Spanish-speaking callers must be routed to an AT&T translating service in California.

Police Commissioner Howard Safir said the system, which handles 10 million calls a year, has failed only twice since January. He also insisted that 95 percent of the calls are answered within 30 seconds.

``I think we’re the best. I don’t think there’s another public answering service in the country that works as well as we do,″ he told the panel.

Council members were perplexed.

``There is such a contradiction,″ said council member Stanley Michaels.

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