IT Hiccups of the Week: Rough Start for NYC's New 911 System

Yet another quiet week in the land of IT snafus. The most interesting story to crop up involved the problems plaguing the roll out of the New York City Police Department’s new emergency 911 dispatch system.  

New York City’s New Emergency Dispatch System Fails 4 Times in First 48 hours

The Big Apple’s long-troubled effort to modernize its 911 emergency call system ran into additional difficulties when its new, US $88 million NYPD emergency dispatch system suffered four outages within two days of its Wednesday debut.

The dispatch system first went out Wednesday afternoon for 16 minutes beginning at 4:21 pm, the New York Daily News reported. Emergency service operators had to revert to capturing the call information on slips of paper, which were then taken by runners to the separate NYPD and EMS radio rooms where the proper emergency units could be assigned to the call. The scene was described by one experienced operator as sheer “pandemonium.”

A City Hall spokesman down played the incident, saying that the manual back-up system worked and that no calls were missed.

Then, early Thursday morning, the dispatch system suffered a six minute outage, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in an interview with CBS News New York. Kelly also felt the need to note that the new system had been “tested for six months.”

I am not sure whether Kelly was trying to vouch for the dispatch system’s reliability, but if he was, his efforts were soon undone. Shortly after Kelley's morning interview, the dispatch system went out again, at 12:09 pm. That time, the outage went on intermittently for about an hour, the Daily News once more reported. Out came the paper, pens, and runners again.

Then at 7:00 Thursday evening, the dispatch system went out one last time—but only for two minutes.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg shrugged off all the outages, saying that, “There are a few bugs in the system. We'll fix them and there'll be more. Every computer system has bugs in it; there's none that does not.”

Those remarks probably didn’t go over well with the emergency system operators who were told that the “new system would never go down.

At least there have been no reported outages the past three days. But if another one happens, at least the emergency dispatch system operators have now had plenty of practice in how to deal with it.

New York City Bike Share Program Has Intermittent Problems

New York City earned a twofer last week when software problems were reported in its new, ballyhooed but controversial Citi Bike Share program. The program was finally launched after a year’s delay because of “software issues.” These included a lawsuit or two among the developers of the software that “controls everything from Internet bookings and payment mechanisms, to the hundreds of solar-powered docking stations, to the Global Positioning System that tracks and monitors inventory," a story last year in the Villager reported.

According to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal, software issues kept some bike stations from working at all, while at others, the bike unlocking codes failed to work. City officials indicated that the problems were minor growing pains and that they hadn’t seemed to damage the “booming demand.”

The same bike share system will be rolling out in Chicago. When it was introduced in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last year, there were also reports of software issues, but they apparently have been overcome for the most part.

In a related story, over the weekend, the Denver Post stated that a “software glitch” hit Denver’s B-Cycle system which has shut it down for everyone but those who have annual bike share memberships. Apparently, a software issue has rendered Denver B-Cycle's 83 kiosk screens inoperable. The hope is to have them fixed sometime this week.

Can You Take A Joke? RBS Mobile App Has Problems Again

You really have to admire the cheeky spin. According to the London Telegraph, RBS tweeted its customers last Friday that, “due to the overwhelming popularity of our app, we have experienced issues, which hopefully will be fixed soon.”

You may recall from last week’s IT Hiccups post that the Royal Bank of Scotland suffered (yet another) embarrassing IT-related outage just two weeks ago. That one kept 2 million of its customers from logging into the bank’s mobile banking app.

The most recent problem prevented customers from ever reaching the log-in stage; the mobile app failed to load up properly on customers’ mobile phones, the Telegraph said. The problem lasted about an hour before it was fixed.

RBS, which has plenty of practice, apologized once again “for the inconvenience caused.”

Maybe RBS should just follow New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s lead and simply announce to its customers that all of the bugs they henceforth experience are considered to be normal system behavior, and to expect more of them soon. So be calm, and carry on.

Also of interest…

Typo Awards Miss Universe Canada Crown to Wrong Contestant

Computer Error Falsely Reports “Active Shooter” on Michigan State University Campus

Water Billing Error Leads to Utility Director’s Resignation

Photo: Robert Churchill/iStockphoto

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