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Upper West Side Residents Frustrated As 911 Calls Are Bounced To New Jersey

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Concerns have arisen on the Upper West Side, as some residents have said they have been running into issues calling 911.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, the callers have found themselves connected to dispatchers across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

One woman, who did not want to be identified, said she got the runaround in a time of need at her Upper West Side building.

“One of my neighbors started banging on my door, and said, ‘There’s smoke in the hall! Fire! Fire!’”

And as if that weren’t shocking enough, what happened next when she called 911 from her cell phone troubled her even more.

“When the dispatcher picked up, they said it was the 911 from New Jersey,” she said.

The woman said the mixup tacked minutes onto the response by the FDNY.

“We were lucky,” she said. “We were really lucky.”

And the woman is not alone. Community leaders on the Upper West Side said in the past six months, they have fielded as many as a dozen similar complaints.

A call log entry obtained by CBS 2 even showed one 93rd Street resident’s call to 311 mistakenly went to Edgewater, N.J.

“Seconds count,” said Aaron Biller, president of the group Neighborhood in the 90s. “With 911, second count.”

Biller said he was told the problem deals with the cell phone towers in the area. The mistake happens when towers from New Jersey bleed over, accepting calls from Manhattan.

When that happens instead of the 911 call going through a New York tower, it goes through one across the river — sending it into a local 911 center there.

Biller said most callers don’t even know.

“They just think they 911 operator is having a bad hair day,” he said. “They have no idea that they’re talking to somebody in Jersey who’s completely clueless.”

After getting complaints, Verizon, which has towers on the Upper West Side, said engineers checked for problems but didn’t find any issues.

The company said it is still looking into the issue.

And in the case of the woman heard a report of a fire in her building, she was thankful her emergency turned out to be a false alarm.

“It would’ve really mattered if it had been a real emergency,” she said.

If 911 calls are mistakenly routed, 911 centers on both sides of the river are supposed to follow strict procedures to correctly route the emergency calls. The issue, of course, is time.

Overall, it is estimated that nearly 70 percent of all 911 calls come from mobile phones nowadays. For that reason the Federal Communications Commission last week proposed new rules calling for added technology in cellphones so 911 calls can be more accurately tracked and located.

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