Emergency response reforms are in the red, according to a report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
A Stringer audit found the city’s own Emergency Communications Transformation Program to be riddled with flaws and shortcomings despite its best intentions of strengthening 911 response abilities. In a statement, the comptroller called the system poorly structured, overly reliant on consultants and ineffectively monitored – which resulted in years of delays and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted.
Stringer, along with other city officials, said the ECTP was supposed to undergo a five-year-long facelift, but poor oversight moved that estimate to 15 years with an end date now no sooner than 2018. The latest audit came in response to Mayor Bill de Blasio calls for a 60-day review of the entire system.
“Instead of strong city governance, the program outsourced critical responsibilities to consultants who were insufficiently accountable to the city,” the comptroller said in a statement. “I commend Mayor de Blasio for initiating this much needed inter-agency review.”
The comptroller’s review found the program estimated capital costs around $1.345 billion in 2004 before watching costs grow 73 percent to $2.326 billion as of last month. His audit also argued that a lack of transparency led to a failure to disclose all taxpayer dollars being spent in the name of ECTP reform, which he said was in excess of $200 million.
“Layers of consultants, middle-men and outsourcing have resulted in 10 years of delays and hundreds of millions in cost overruns to the city’s upgrade of its 911 system,” Stringer said. “This program produced an outrageous waste of funds due to the lack of oversight and accountability. “It’s time to fix this boondoggle once and for all.”
De Blasio called for the review back in May, when he said ECTP was both over budget and years behind where former Mayor Michael Bloomberg hoped it would be. The 60-day review allowed for several key changes to the structure and leadership of the program, de Blasio said, which included putting the city in charge of the program’s strategy, infusing stakeholder agencies like the NYPD and FDNY into the mix and cutting consultant costs to trim unnecessary work.
“As public servants, our first priority is public safety, and we do not take that charge lightly. That is why this administration ordered this review, and it’s why the changes we have outlined today will improve the city’s emergency response communications program for generations to come,” de Blasio said. “We have identified the problems that have long plagued the ECTP, and we’re committed to taking the necessary corrective action to ensure the program is brought back on track, within our means and ahead of schedule.”
Bloomberg first introduced the overhaul in 2005, budgeted at $1.3 million to streamline the city’s emergency response preparedness, but those efforts were proven ineffective after new reports clocked emergency response times for FDNY ambulances at almost 10 minutes.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who also chairs the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, remained a consistent critic of the entire system over recent years and applauded the commitments to improve.
“Today marks a significant step in fixing our City’s flawed 911 call taking system,” she said back in May, when the city suspended the program for the review. “In an attempt by the Bloomberg administration to oversimplify a complicated multi-departmental service, the system became too heavily centralized within the NYPD and created more problems than it solved. A nearly nine and a half minute average emergency medical response time is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
By Phil Corso