New York City’s 911 Upgrade $1B over Budget

The city comptroller blames project management problems for the project being seven years behind schedule.
March 22, 2012

By Government Technology News Staff

For the first time in New York City’s history, emergency call-takers are using the same technology and are sharing data.

But apparently it has come at a high price.

An audit from City Comptroller John Liu released Wednesday, March 21, asserts that New York City’s expansive 911 upgrade is $1 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule.

Started in 2004, the Emergency Communications Transformation Program is now estimated to cost $2.3 billion, with a 2015 target for full completion. The project is establishing two public safety call centers in order to improve the resiliency and redundancy of 911 response, which formerly was decentralized within individual city agencies. The New York City Fire and Police departments are now operating in one of the two new call centers. Construction work continues on the other building.

The city hired Gartner when the project began eight years ago, and the consultancy helped implement a series of modifications to the project’s scope and management when problems arose. HP, Northrop Grumman and Motorola are among the vendors that have received contracts on the project.

Liu blamed the cost overruns on inadequate project management within the city. “Taxpayers are just tired of hearing about out-of-control projects involving expensive outside consultants,” Liu said in a statement.

Problems continue with the project’s new computer-aided dispatch system as well as quality assurance, the audit said.

In a letter responding to the findings, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner Carole Post wrote that the state-of-the-art 911 upgrade has significantly improved call capacity and that call-takers have moved successfully into the first new call center. DoITT also agreed with the audit’s recommendations for improvement.

City officials said many of the problems identified in the audit already were known and have been addressed as work on the upgrade continues. Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway detailed the reasons for project’s high costs in an interview with The Associated Press here.

The New York Daily News also shines light on the project’s long history here.

In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated the opening of the first public safety answering center. The center can handle 50,000 calls per hour, 40 times more than the average volume and nine times more than was received on Sept. 11, 2011. Callers are no longer handled by more than one call-taker, as was the case in the past.

“The changes we have made have eluded many administrations and the project has been a challenge, but we have never shied away from the tough decisions or taking on the difficult projects that will make New Yorkers safer and the city work better, and we never will,” Bloomberg said in January.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg’s office is taking heat again, only one week after the lead contractor that implemented the city’s automated workforce management system agreed to pay a $500 million settlement, in order to avoid a criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney. Project costs ballooned tenfold from original estimates after the contractor’s employees paid kickbacks and overbilled on the project, called CityTime.

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