One for 911: NYC puts police, fire, medical calls on integrated system

For the first time, New York City has all of its 911 dispatchers in one place and on one system, an integrated platform that combines calls, mapping and other features designed to increase information sharing and improve response times.

The new system has a capacity of 50,000 calls per hour, which is over 40 times more than the city’s daily average and nine times greater than the peak volume on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a release from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.

For decades, New Yorkers had one number — 911 — to call for police, fire or ambulance crews, but that didn’t mean the calls were all going to one place.

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“Since the [original 911] 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.

The city’s more than 1,500 emergency call-takers now work in the same location and on the same system, whether the calls coming in are for the NYPD, FDNY or Emergency Medical Dispatch services, Bloomberg said.
The city’s 911 upgrade, dubbed the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, started in 2004, and its completion has coincided with other IT-driven consolidations in the Big Apple. In 2011, for instance, the city opened a consolidated data center that is expected to combine information from more than 40 city agencies over the next five years.

Fire department personnel moved into the Public Safety Answering Center in Brooklyn in August 2009, EMS personnel arrived in June 2010 and police call-takers and dispatchers joined them in December 2011.

Personnel see emergency calls on a VESTA intelligent screen, with automatic displays of location and telephone phone number of the caller, and automatic mapping of the caller’s location, the city’s release states. The system employs computer-aided dispatch features and allows for instant playback of calls.

Among the features of the new 911 upgrade are:

  • The integration of NYPD and FDNY computer-aided dispatch systems allows 911 operators to automatically route an incident directly to the FDNY via a data link.
  • Improved data sharing among agencies — including the immediate availability of emergency data to the NYPD, FDNY and EMS — and better coordination of resources directed to the scene of emergencies.
  • Maps indicating the location of callers are now automatically presented to 911 call-takers, leading to improved accuracy and speed the in the dispatch of emergency resources.
  • Upgrades to the city’s emergency telephone and radio networks strengthen the backbone of emergency communications infrastructure and afford the city backup capabilities it didn’t have before.
  • Installation of automated vehicle locator technology in emergency response vehicles.
  • Renovations and upgrades at One Police Plaza, which will house redundant emergency 911 operations for the NYPD.
  • Renovations and upgrades at existing communications offices in Queens and the Bronx, which will house backup emergency 911 operations for the FDNY.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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