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NYC Mayor Admits Not Reading Critical 911 Report

NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that he "didn't even bother" to read a report by city-hired consultants that found New York's recently-overhauled 911 system is plagued by delays and errors.

Bloomberg appeared to simultaneously criticize and give credence to the $500,000 report as he answered reporters' questions Tuesday. The report found that flawed procedures used by emergency operators could be leaving callers without help for crucial seconds, and it identified areas in which fire and police officials weren't collaborating adequately.

"We take it very seriously," the mayor said, explaining that his administration is examining all of the consultants' recommendations — including a suggestion that the city begin timing its emergency-response times from the moment a 911 call is placed.

But the mayor also seemed to question the accuracy of the report's findings and the motives behind it — saying, "They can make up anything they want to say."

When asked by a reporter whether he was saying he thought aspects of the report were wrong, he said, "I didn't say that. I didn't even bother to read it."

The consultants examined operations at a new $680 million call center that combined the previously-separate operations of police, fire and medical dispatchers — a project that was delayed by problems with the technology being developed for the city by contractors. The new center is part of an ongoing $2 billion overhaul of the system that includes the construction of a second backup center.

Last week, Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway said the years-long development of the first call center had focused largely on changes to technology and infrastructure — while focusing less on changes to training and procedures for staffers, such as those suggested in the report. Many of those changes can be accomplished without further raising the budget of the project, he said.

On Tuesday, the mayor argued that the city's emergency response system is the strongest it's ever been, with fire deaths at the lowest level ever. City officials have said that a working group will be created to evaluate the report's recommendations. Bloomberg said that some of the other recommendations could be adopted soon, while others "are things you'd like to do someday if you can get to it."

While the report targeted areas in which the fire and police departments failed to collaborate, Bloomberg said the two agencies "are working well together."

"Getting two agencies, police and fire, with an enormous history of pride and a belief that they can do everything — getting them to work together was one of the great accomplishments here," he said.

According to the report, the two agencies aren't collaborating on how to handle a surge in calls from a massive crisis such as a terrorist attack, and the fire department's emergency medical managers weren't involved in developing procedures for police operators who now handle medical calls.

The consultants also found that call operators waste time on duplicative questions and employ inconsistent questioning procedures. The 911 system sends some responders to the wrong address and slows fire and medical dispatchers' efforts to give instructions to callers, the report said.

The administration's lawyers have been fighting legal efforts by firefighters unions to force it to release earlier versions of the report. The city handed out a 133-page edited copy on Friday, but when the New York Post first wrote about it last month, it described a 216-page document.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association believes changes that accompanied the overhaul caused delays that are being hidden by changes in how the city records response times. The city contends that combining police and fire operations has reduced confusion for callers and means people in an emergency are no longer required to repeat the same information to many people.


Follow Samantha Gross at www.twitter.com/samanthagross


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