Friday, May 25, 2012

NYC 911 Needs CPR

This article was forwarded to me by a friend.  I love NYC, love to visit with my friends and family there.  Haven't yet been able to arrange a sit-a-long to see they 911 center.  This report breaks my heart.


Thursday, May 10, 2012, 2:00 AM

Todd Maisel/New York Daily News

Mayor Bloomberg and his fire and police commissioners toured the new NYPD-FDNY 911 operators and dispatchers headquarters at 11 Metrotech in Brooklyn earlier this year. A report says the $2 billion modernization is riddled with errors.

No wonder Mayor Bloomberg fought for months to keep secret an independent review he requested of problems dogging the city's 911 communications upgrade.

Bloomberg finally released the report late Friday - or at least a shortened version of the original draft - after a long court battle with the firefighters unions who want the whole thing made public.
Even in its abridged form, the report's conclusions are a huge embarrassment to City Hall. The 911 modernization, after all, is one of the signature projects of the Bloomberg era. It has already cost taxpayers $2 billion - nearly twice its original pricetag - and is still not finished.
Most disturbing are the report's conclusions that city officials have operated the 911 system contrary to the "best practices" of emergency response organizations nationwide.
The NYPD, for example, typically requires 911 operators to ask callers a dozen questions. They ask about the caller's borough, exact location, cross streets, apartment number, building floor, name and phone number. Then the operators have to verify that information via computer even before asking the nature of the emergency.
According to the report, operators don't ask the type of emergency - a crime, a medical problem or a fire - until question No. 12.

The questions, which have been part of NYPD protocols for decades, consume valuable seconds and do not conform to best standards, the report concluded.

The new report to Bloomberg, done by the Virginia-based Winbourne Consulting Group, urges the NYPD to "consider changing the order of the questions asked the caller to first ask 'what is your emergency,' before trying to determine the caller's location.

If the caller says 'fire' or 'heart attack,' the 911 operator should then immediately connect the person to an appropriate Fire or EMS dispatcher, the consultants recommended. That dispatcher would then take over asking the remaining questions while the police operator stays on the line and simultaneously inputs the responses into the NYPD computers.

The way things operate now, the NYPD operator asks all the location questions first, and if a fire dispatcher or EMS dispatcher is later connected, those dispatchers have to repeat the same location questions.

Emergency officials said operators ask the location questions first in case a call gets dropped. Records from Los Angeles show operators there ask for the nature of the emergency by the third question.

The proposed change would "eliminate redundant data entry," "improve the 911 call processin*g time," and "leverage the call taking expertise" of Fire and EMS dispatchers, the report concludes.

But the problems don't end there.
The city is also masking how long it actually takes emergency responders to answer a 911 call - commonly referred to as "response time," the reports says.
All over the country response time is defined as "the total time from the time a 911 call is made to the arrival of the responding units," the report says.
That includes four components: waiting for a 911 operator to pick up; the "call-processing time" by the operator; the time spent by dispatchers from either police, Fire or EMS sending units out; and the time it takes units to arrive.
But the city's calculations of response time have never publicly counted the first two steps - the time it takes 911 to answer the phone, and the time the 911 operator is asking the questions.
"This practice inhibits the ability of the NYPD and FDNY Fire and EMS to generate accurate response time information," the report said.
In other words, you can't trust what City Hall says about response times.
Other parts of the report point to the historic turf battles between the Police and Fire Departments.
Despite all that money spent on modernization, Police, Fire and EMS still maintain their separate maps of the city for their dispatchers, their own separate databases of addresses, and their own separate computer dispatch systems.
The separate systems lead to periodic mixups in dispatching emergency workers because the same location can have a different address depending on the database.
They are all now co-located in the same emergency call center in downtown Brooklyn - but each still preserves its own turf.
The 911 system itself is in need of emergency care.
The report Bloomberg sought to hide is aptly titled l "911CPR."

Read more:
In earlier posts I have lectured about how to make a 911 call.  First thing to do, in ten words or less, state the emergency.  Then you give location information.
But I think what really bothers me, is clearly the call takers are using a script to make up calls for service.  Like the medical aid emergency dispatchers here, they follow a script, depending on the callers answers they go to the next screen of what to ask.
Don't think I could work that way.  Maybe because I was taught/trained differently.  If script driven call taking is all I know how can I imagine the free format of thinking and responding call taking?  
I think script driven call taking is too restrictive.  It has its place (especially in medical aid calls), but when you are taking calls for help and truly listening to the callers voices (inflictions, breathing, stalls) and the background, you sometimes know there are other questions you need to ask to get the full story. 
And when you are script driven you don't have that freedom.  You can actually get written up and disciplinary action taken against you for deviating from the script.
A well trained dispatcher knows what to ask, in the proper order, without the benefit of a script. 
Hey New York, try answering 911 calls as, "911, What's your emergency?"


Radio said...

I second your "911, what's your emergency?" comment!

Our EMS calltakers use a script, too, but police and fire haven't gone that route. We have questions we're supposed to ask depending on what sort of incident it is (you know.. if it's an emergency with an aircraft, we ask what runway it's landing on and what the ETA is.. if it's a car accident, we ask if all the vehicles are still on scene, that sort of thing) but an actual script isn't used.

I am not sure I could continue doing my job if we moved to having a script for our calls. I don't understand how it could possibly be helpful for an emergency police call. Sometimes the first logical question *is* "where are you?" but other times it's likely to go "where did the bad guy go?" or "what colour is the car?" or something else that a script couldn't possibly predict. Yikes. Just thinking about being scripted is making me feel queasy.

Scott Pantall said...

Makes me sad, too. Sounds like another agency spending too much on nifty technology and not enough on the people who use it. Don't get me wrong, I love nifty technology. I just hate it when it's purchased, but there's no training or maintenance or it's just useless. That seems to happen everywhere though which makes me even more sad.

I agree with you on scripts. I hate them a lot. I have a neighboring agency that asks every caller to say their location and phone number twice before getting any other info. It's a script and it's really annoying.

I have to disagree with you about the first question though. If I could only get 1 piece of info from a caller, it would have to be the location. Then at least I'd have somewhere to start. However, getting and confirming the location should be done as quickly as possible so that we can find out what happened.