And the "fallout" from Hurricane Sandy Continues:
As someone who was there, I can tell you that no agency of any kind in this country can handle 20,000 calls per hour in their 911 center. It just cannot happen. Could there have been better planning on the part of all agencies involved, of course. Should all agencies involved have made certain that all seats were staffed at all times. Of Course. However, this type of blame, at this time, does nothing constructive except distract from the real problems and the real potential solutions and, more importantly, the issues from which there are no real solutions.
Namely, that during periods of extreme disaster, you can exceed the capacity of a 911 center to manage its calls. Now, what can you do when that happens?
Should we establish a regional or national 911 rollover policy and system? But if we do, how do we get that information back to where it needs to be?
Should we do a low tech change in the 911 Hold announcement? Or, during periods of disaster, have all calls go into a hold pattern where the callers hear an automated message, informing them that 911 is overloaded and they should only remain on the line if they have a legitimate emergency, then list what those are and what they should dial 311 for?
Should we do a much better job on public education regarding these types of events, what they can really expect of 911 and what will happen whenever massive disasters impact high-population areas?
These are the kinds of discussions that we need to be having. UCT (NYPD 911 operators answering FDNY calls is not going away under the present administration. There are, however, some big questions that need to be answered. Not pettiness in an us versus them way of FDNY Fire Dispatchers blasting NYPD 911 calltakers for being unable to handle something that no one else could have handled. Especially when we, AT BEST would have 13 calltakers to handle the calls! In other words, we didn't have enough to answer our calls either. So the blame game makes zero sense, especially when we are pointing out the splinter in our brother's eye but ignoring the log in our own (to paraphrase the Biblical admonition) .
What we need now are effective, informed, and common sense questions, ideas, and answers, about how 911 systems handle peak days in a world where there are not unlimited resources to answer the calls or respond to the emergencies. This is a problem that all 911 centers face, especially those dealing with Hurricanes or other massive disasters and lessons from Sandy that could easily apply to all.
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Monday, November 19, 2012
It has taken a couple of weeks to begin to process our recent Hurricane/Superstorm/Megastorm/Reminder of the fragile nature of mankind’s place on this earth/or whatever else you might like to call it.
As many of you know, I was working for this event. I almost always am for these types of things, but I think this was the first time I was keenly aware that I was supposed to be there. This doesn’t mean I had some pre-ordained role to play as a hero—just that my inner-self knew that my physical self was supposed to be performing the role of my professional self during this disaster. I knew what was coming. Driving back from a wonderful conference in
where I made
friends who have already earned the title “life-long”—I had a feeling. I shared that feeling with some friends and
co-workers. I Sent text messages of
storm prediction updates—including the 50% chance that Lower Manhattan would be
inundated by water and the Subway system would flood. I told some how this situation made me sick
to my stomach. Dread is not an emotion I
am often filled with but in the days preceding this event it became my near constant
Not for what would happen to me. But dread over what would happen to my community, in every way that the term applies. That feeling was, in the end, prescient. My colleagues were devastated in ways that many people still do not grasp. Nearly 15% of my co-workers suffered major to significant or catastrophic damage. Some lost everything—as though their lives were wiped clean off the face of the earth.
This was, and is, a tragedy. But the greater tragedy—the one I think that brought on the real dread—were the reactions and efforts of people who should have known better. This storm was not a surprise. We knew days in advance that the damage would be measured in historic terms. Yet again, however, people that should know better did not undertake the actions demanded by their positions and responsibilities. After the storm the reactions of those same people who “should know better” revealed to me in crystal detail just why I feel like a plant that has outgrown its pot. As always, the lessons of the days before, during, and after the storm will serve me for the balance of my lifetime.
For now, I would like to say how inspiring and heartening it is to see people brought together in this city. It is beyond words how people work together to overcome obstacles and tragedies to make things better for those in need. I cannot help but feel that I haven’t done enough. So many live and neighborhoods in
and surrounding areas will never be the same again. It is also humbling how many people across
the New York
and beyond want to help with the recovery from the storm. United States
In the family that is “911”, so many people have reached out to offer support, physical donations or supplies, or donations of funds. It is touching. These efforts serve as reminders that we here in
New York are part of
something much bigger that, too often, in our “ way” we turn away from. As a
result, there are things we do not know, resources we are not aware exist, and solutions
that could be applied to the situation which are never engaged. This is the price that all pay for the
arrogance, ignorance, and isolation of some.
The lack of vision leads to a lack of options—the lack of foresight and
planning and innovation lead to greater harm, not just for the ones—but for the
many. New York
That leads to the most important observation of all. Although this place and those who live here will never be exactly the same again, it will survive and it can learn—can get better. It can grow from the wrenching experience. Anytime a community of millions is reminded that life is not permanent, neither a home, neighborhood, of feeling of security—then life is forever altered. It is in that darkness that people can begin to know what is truly valued—that new appreciation for life begins, dreams of learning how not to repeat mistakes of the past take hold and visions of change sprout from those broken branches. For me, the same truth applies. Given the gift of understanding and vision, I know that I too am forever changed. Watching my employer and my community fail—being chastised for even suggesting common sense steps to address the needs of my brother and sister dispatchers—I just have to shake my head and know that, given the chance in the future, I will take these lessons and do better. I know that I must move outside and beyond my too-small pot—and speak always to the need for people to do better—for communities to do better—and for the responsibility we all have to overcome and grow together—no matter how many well-intentioned but blind souls try to hold back the progress of time, imagination, and vision. During times like these, the dread may indeed be strong, but the resolve must be stronger.
Note: This post is dedicated in loving memory to all those who lost their lives in the Storm. I also wish to express my extreme sympathy to all those impacted, many of whom are friends. To the women and men of FDNY Fire Dispatch Operations that worked, you showed the world just how capable you are and your efforts that night exceeded what anyone could have expected. You truly are the Best Damn Dispatchers in the World