The city’s new $88 million 911 computer system, part of a $2 billion overhaul of the emergency- response system, crashed at least nine times last week and has been plagued with problems since it launched in May. Operators had to record 911 calls with pen and paper, causing delays in getting crucial information to NYPD, FDNY and EMS dispatchers — and getting urgent help to citizens. One experienced 911 call-taker coping with the crisis and other on-the-job problems told her story to The Post’s Susan Edelman.
via NY Post
I’ve been a 911 operator for years. It’s never been as frustrating and stressful as now. If the public only knew what we’re going through.
We’re your lifeline. We’re supposed to send help quickly if you’re having chest pains or getting mugged. With a billion dollars spent on this system, you would expect the top-notch, the best, the state-of-the-art.
“System down!” That’s what they yell when it crashes.
It’s chaos in the call center. Everybody comes running onto the floor, the bigwigs, the commanders, the people from Verizon and Intergraph [the Alabama company that designed the new system].
We stop typing caller information on our computer screens.
They throw slips of paper at you. You have to make sure the information goes in the right spot on the forms. It’s so time-consuming. You have to jot down what the caller tells you, the address verification, the cross streets, the nature of the call, the codes — cardiac, crime in progress, bomb threat.
It’s a lot of writing. There are more calls. People are waiting to get through to 911, but I’m stuck on this call.
Somebody’s dying, and I’m writing on paper.
“We’re holding!” a supervisor shouts. He’s breathing down my neck. “You still on the same call?” They pressure you to move on, but I need more time.
Once I finish, I raise my hand. “I’m ready! Here’s the card!” A runner, an operator on lunch break, picks it up and takes it across the room to the NYPD dispatchers, who send patrol cars over the radio.
I take another call.
Each time the system crashes, the operators say, “Bloomberg’s baby sucks! This s–t went down again!”
Our call volume is too high for this system. It’s a very slow system, even when it’s working right. The old computer system was much faster. I wish we could go back.
Crazy things happen with this system. I’ve taken calls where the information disappears — everything you’ve typed is gone. You’re ready to send the call to the dispatcher, and the screen goes blank — everything is gone.
“Where’s the job number? I’m still waiting on the job number,” an EMS dispatcher asks me. All my information on a medical call will pop up once he gets the job number.
“You have the job number on the screen,” I tell him.
“I don’t see it; check your queue.”
“I don’t have it. If I had it, I’d give it to you.”
Then the job number pops up on my screen two to three minutes later. It just appears out of nowhere.
Intergraph keeps telling us, “Shut your computer down and reboot. It’ll just take a minute.”
How many lives can you lose in a minute?
Sometimes we get it wrong, too. Once the address an operator thought she heard was for the wrong borough. A baby wasn’t breathing. The baby died.
Every day I worry about making a terrible mistake like this.
The calls keep coming in. “My husband’s dying of a heart attack.” “My child can’t breathe.” “Someone got shot.”
My job is to get the address first, then verify the cross streets and the nature of the call: “What is your emergency?” I immediately send it over to the NYPD or FDNY. If medical attention is needed, I notify EMS. I have to stay on the line until the dispatcher verifies the address.
“Help is on the way.” That’s what we must tell all callers for priority jobs, like a rescue, cardiac, shooting or robbery in progress. “Help is on the way.” If we don’t use that slogan, we get reprimanded or lose vacation time.
They give rookie operators two months training, and after that just throw ’em in. They’re not ready. It’s a revolving door. The new ones come in, and some say it’s too much and leave.
Starting pay for a 911 operator is about $26,000. There is money to be made on overtime. I know a lady, known as “the queen of OT,” who made up to $80,000. She put her daughter through college.
Now we’re forced to do overtime because we don’t have enough people. Since Mother’s Day, we have to work mandatory double shifts three or four times a week. Some operators call in sick after two tours. We get two 15-minute breaks and an hour meal each shift.
The only way out of a second shift is to bring in a doctor’s note. After a regular shift, I’d have to find an emergency room to say I’m not well.
After 16 hours, it’s unsanitary. No family time. We need back-up babysitters for our babysitters. We’re too exhausted to do anything after work.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I’m here to serve people and do my best. But the conditions are inhumane. We’re burned out.