To date, close to 700 LinkNYC Wifi kiosks have been installed throughout the five boroughs. Among their features are an app that lets users make free calls anywhere in the U.S., as well as a dedicated red 911 button for emergencies. Coupled with the fact that most New Yorkers have cell phones on them, it seems that the city’s 14,813 red alarm boxes serve basically no purpose anymore. In fact, as Crain’s tells us, last year, the boxes were used only 11,440 times to call the FDNY, which is an average of less than once per box. And, of these calls, only 13 percent were for actual emergencies and just 1.5 percent for fires. But yet, the city spends a whopping $6.8 million annually paying electricians to repair the call boxes and others to paint over graffiti.
There hasn’t been a lack of effort to discontinue the alarm boxes; both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations tried, but were sued by a deaf-rights group. In 2011, a judge said the structures must remain until an appropriate replacement was found for deaf New Yorkers. But according to the city’s official Link NYC page, “All of Link’s physical kiosk controls are marked with braille and each Link is equipped with talkback for touchscreen use.”
So why has the issue not be revisited by elected officials?
It might be time to push for their removal again, especially considering that 86 percent of calls made from the boxes last year were false alarms, diverting firefighters from potential real emergencies.