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City 911 Call System will Undergo Two Reviews, Officials Say

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The City Council's Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services held an oversight hearing Friday on the "Unified Call Taking'' project as critics of the system are calling for it to be overhauled. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

The city's new 911 system was supposed to be state-of-the-art.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says the problem-plagued project raises serious questions.

"We've looked at this more and more, and the more we see, the more we want to dig deeper," he said.

Last week, City Hall suspended work on multi-billion-dollar system and ordered a 60-day review of the technology. On Friday, officials tried to explain that process to the City Council.

"While our review is underway, we do not spend another taxpayer dollar not approved at the top levels of the administration," said Anne Roest, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

"I believe every dollar we put into a new system, it's worth their life. It's worth ensuring that Ayina and Jai'Launi and Police Officer Guerra, we don't have any more of that in New York City," said City Councilman Donovan Richards of Queens.

Those are all examples of recent emergencies where first responders were delayed.

Driving the point home, the Council played a 911 call from as Staten Island convent fire last year as administration officials sat silently listening to the dispatcher struggle to find the location.

Dispatcher: Can you give me the cross streets? Hylan Boulevard between what and what?
Sister Denise Martin: Hylan Boulevard...(coughs)
Dispatcher: Are you inside the location that's on fire, ma'am?
Martin: Yes, I am.

A nun eventually jumped from a window of the burning building.

"I think we can all clearly see that valuable seconds were wasted," said NYPD Inspector Richard Napolitano.

City Hall says the administration has expanded its 911 review, examining the whole system from the time a call is placed to when emergency responders get to the scene.

"Currently, 'Where is your emergency?' is asked first," said Mindy Tarlow of the Mayor's Office of Operations. "So we're evaluating whether a change to 'What is your emergency?' can speed response times."

"They should be asking, 'What's your emergency?'" said Steve Cassidy of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "And when somebody says they want to report a fire, 'Where are you calling from?'"

It's unclear when this comprehensive 911 review could be completed. De Blasio administration officials say it could take a matter of months.

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