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A must listen: WTOP Radio reports DC 911 call taker can't find major intersection in the Nation's Capital. Is this really a glitch in the system?

Listen to January 26 Military Road call

WTOP story

WTOP Radio’s Mark Segraves uncovered a 911 call from the January 26th storm in the District of Columbia that you should take the time to listen to in its entirety.  In it, the caller, Ellie Cossa, very patiently tries to direct the call taker for 14 minutes to get help to west bound Military Road between Beach Drive and 16th Street in Northwest Washington. That’s where a tree crushed a pick-up truck, killing a man and injuring a woman. This was Cossa’s second call to 911.

What happens in this call speaks directly to a recent conversation in our comments section at about Computer Aided Dispatch and the training of call takers and dispatchers. Despite a sign on Miltary Road pointing to Beach Drive, technically those two roads don’t intersect. So the call taker could not find it in the computer. 

Why can’t a call taker see what anyone with a Google Map can see? Is that a glitch in the system?

The roadways actually are connected via Joyce Road and Ross Drive. But Military Road goes over top Beach Drive traveling through Rock Creek Park. This is not some small thoroughfare in the District of Columbia. It is a major commuter route.

Ms. Cossa described the location well. Even providing a landmark (a golf course sign) and another major cross street to the east, 16th Street. Somehow, even after consulting the United States Park Police, no one could comprehend or immediately dispatch help to west bound Military Road between 16th Street and Beach Drive, NW. I am willing to bet that almost 100 percent of the firefighters and EMS personnel in the District of Columbia, from the fire chief on down, could be given that location and would have found the wreck instantly. Same with the police officers of the city.

Mark Segraves reports the 911 director believes the call taker did a good job and that this was a glitch in the system that will be corrected by new software.

With all due respect, I say bull!

What the motorist sees. Click the image for the Google Maps Street View tour.

This is a training issue. I give credit to the 911 call taker for staying calm and with Ms. Cossa and not showing any attitude or frustration. But is it too much to expect that a call taker or a dispatcher, or someone in the United States Park police, know a major thoroughfare like Military Road?

Even if they didn’t know this information couldn’t someone have listened to what Ms. Cossa clearly said, looked at a map and figured out that Military Road goes over top of Beach Drive? Any of us could use our phone or computer and have found out this information. Why can’t 911?

This isn’t a problem just in the District of Columbia. 911 centers all over the country have dealt with similar issues. The professionals in the business (and I used to be one before there was CAD) who I’ve talked with previously about this issue, agree this is about proper training.

But it isn’t just 911. It’s a problem throughout our digital lifestyle. It could be the food service industry, a department store  or even the news business. If all we expect of people to know about their jobs is what’s on the computer screen in front of them, then we have failed.

Emergency services must have  people who know their jobs (and in the case of 911, it’s knowing the community’s roads and landmarks) and can think for themselves when the flickering screen does not provide the answer.


Comments - Add Yours

  • Jason Low

    If you can’t get directly on to Military Road from Beach Drive or vice-versa, you don’t want it in CAD as an intersection. The way I’m seeing it on Google Maps, I would not expect my CAD map to allow me to put in a location of “Military Road and Beach Drive”.

    As I write this comment, I have listened to about 30 to 45 seconds of the call, to the point where the calltaker is saying “I’m just trying to–” (locate this call, I think was the unsaid portion). My personal procedure at this point would be:
    – Try “Military Road and Beach Drive”.
    – If that didn’t work, type “Military Road” (which would outline the entire road length on my map); then do the same for “Beach Drive”; somewhere where they cross paths, I would put a flag manually (locating the call at that point, but without a specific address).
    – Actually, given that the caller said it was “westbound just before Beach Drive”, I’d put it on WB Military a few hundred yards east of where Beach crosses under it.

    Listening a little further I hear the calltaker point out “Military and 14th”. Again, if told that it was between 14th (or 16th) and Beach, I would manually plot the call on Military westbound after that street (either 14th or 16th). Or, if manually plotting isn’t possible (it is with my department’s CAD but I don’t know about others), I’d put it in as “Military Road and 16th” with a well-identified comment to go west from that location.

    Having it the other way – where roads that DON’T intersect are actually set up in CAD so they are – is just as bad if not worse. In my area, a road (we’ll say Smith Street) runs parallel to the freeway (Route 5) for most of its length, but joins the freeway at the south end of the city. Halfway through the city, several miles from the south end, this street meets an avenue (Jones Avenue) and Jones Avenue almost immediately (within 100 yards) intersects the freeway as well. So we have to continually query if the location of “Smith and Route 5″ is where Smith actually meets Route 5, or if it’s where Smith and Jones meet, where Jones actually does the intersecting.

    One thing that does get my fur up about these calls is the caller trying what seems to be tactics to make the calltaker “do something”. Like “We need a medevac. STAT!” – doesn’t help the situation. Nor does “But I already called!” – yeah, you called and gave an invalid address, and now you’re using that invalid address a second time. It would be nice if we could recognize (a) these locations which are technically invalid but colloquially known as such, and/or (2) the repeat/multiple calls on a fairly unique incident. Maybe my operation is more small-town than I think, but if a tree had fallen on a truck with entrapment and injury, I probably wouldn’t have needed the address to find the call when someone else called it in.

    Don’t mean to throw bricks at anyone in this situation, but I agree that things could have been done better – on both ends of the phone.

    • dave statter

      I couldn’t disagree with you more Jason. The professionals are supposed to be on the 911 end. This woman calling 911 did everything she knew how and then some. You can run through all of the various ways to deal with the CAD. To me, that is not the issue and is the same excuse as the 911 director saying the call taker did a good job and there is a glitch in the system. To me, for this to happen, maybe the system is the glitch.

      This is not an obscure location. Yes, every call taker may not know every main road, but either call someone in who does, or look at a map. We shouldn’t be making excuses for not providing basic service.


      • MDF

        +1 on what Statter said. On the times I’ve been to DC, Military Road seems a very significant street. As a fire communications supervisor, if one of my shift staff did this, we’d be having a looooooong conversation about getting the head in a damn map book. I get that urban and suburban sprawl is out of control, but you have to know the major thruways, interstates, etc. There’s just no way around it. We’re seeing this increasing trend of relying on the computer and (I can tell just from listening to the dispatcher) the damn NAED ‘protocols’ which make you repeat scripts verbatim, forcing the dispatcher to can every type of emergency into a lump sum nature list.

        The computer is an aid, like mapbooks. It is not the be all, end all. That would be what the human dispatcher is for. This caller was a saint. I’d be so lucky to talk to a cellular caller who was knowledgeable about their location and painted a pretty good picture of the scene. DC is supposed to be Phase II compliant; could the calltaker not have triangulated the GPS coordinates and calculated a confidence factor?

        It sounds like the dispatcher was trying; she remained calm, and asked the caller to describe some landmarks, a good tactic. And she stuck with the call, rather than shutting down and hiding behind the CAD system. I’m sure OUC was quite busy during this storm, too. But it doesn’t excuse not knowing basic geography. Get thy damn head in a map book.

        • MDF

          Later on, I hear the calltaker saying that 14th & Military validates in the CAD, as does 16th & Military. Why not use either of those to satisfy the CAD, and then in the call remarks, put in that the scene was actually at Military & Beech? That US Park Police dispatcher is useless, also.

          • BLWeng

            Having been on both sides of the radio and taking to different callers, yes, caller was very good. What happened to the call from the first time she called?? Like Dave said in the original article, the people on the street know their area. I’m not from DC but it looks like that entire area around the streets the caller is saying are probably in the same station response. Here is an idea….talk. Give the responders directions after its dispatched. Tell the responders exactly what the caller is saying. Trust me, they will find the accident.

  • Fire 21

    Wow! That came to a reality quickly!

  • Anonymous

    The particular Incident in question wasnot/and isnot an alledged unfamiliar Location. The calling party did state they
    were on “Military Road, near Beach Drive”. Then the call taker stated needed a better Location. The calling party again “stated on “Military Road, near 16th Street”. Military Road, Beach Drive, and 16th Street are all “Main Thoroughfares within the District of Columbia. One can only be inclined to believe there was a Map in the Communications Center and the call taker as well as the Supervisor or another shift member
    should have/couldhave looked closely at a Map and saw the Locations that were spoken. The calling party never stated that
    Military Road “INTERSECTED” with eithr Beach Drive and/or 16th Street. Had some on duty at Communications looked at the map they would have noted Military Road does in fact “Cross over
    Beach Drive and 16th Street” The Director at Communications did stand by her employee, however the employee didnot think outside the box. The call taker looked at CAD Screen, CAD didnot suggest nor make a Reccomendation. That is why it is Imperative/Critical for everyone working in Communications Learn and maintain a Basic Body of Knowledge of the Main Thoroughfares,where these Streets begin, cross over, interesect
    etc. The delayed response was the primary issue of concern here. The new Soft Ware will enhance to correct this situation again, however it still remains the fact that People working in a 911 Center must be Trained to handle any 911 call with any circumstances. All 911 personnel must keep mindful that their Job can be defined as “CRISIS INTERVENTION”. The 911 personnel must handle/treat all 911 calls the same way they would want/expect their family to be treated.

    Thank You

    etc. It is the same situation where there may be

  • Hawkeye Pierce

    I’m with Dave 100% on this one. The only glitch here is of the human variety.

    The caller has to be among the most educated 911 callers out there. She accurately described where she was and the condition of the patients on scene. Most 911 callers don’t even know what street they are on, much less the closest intersection, nearby landmarks or whether they are east/west of any other street.

    Any person with reasonable intelligence and access to a map should have been able to identify the location of this accident within 30-60 seconds.

    • Hawkeye Pierce

      I will add that it’s quite possible that there are 911 centers without any maps other than their CAD systems. It’s as though emergency services in some cities don’t keep pace with “civilian” technology.

      I know of a town that still relies exclusively on weather reports from spotters and bulletins issued by the Nat’l Weather Service. They’re the last to know what’s happening while all of the residents in town turn on their TV or smart phone and watch live coverage of storms for themselves.

    • Betchawannaknow

      I don’t know why (and I dispatch for the BLM) they didn’t have someone en route regardless of whether or not they had pinpointed the exact location. If they did, which they might have, they should have told this woman that people were en route, but that they were going to keep her on the line and continue to get more closure on the exact location until the help arrived. Also, I use Google Maps and Mapquest (also paper maps, local knowledge, or whatever is available) all the time to supplement WildCad and the other mapping programs we have. Okay, I’m getting to the later part of the call, and it sounds like they DID at least already have people en route, but they should have told the woman that I always try to remember to let the reporting parties of incidents know that just because I’m still talking to them doesn’t mean that things aren’t already in the works. Hopefully, 911 call takers are allowed to use Google. I always keep a tab open on my computer with Google open, especially if I’m at a different dispatch center where I’m unfamiliar with the ground. Google Earth is great too.

  • Anonymous

    WOW, another mess up by the infamous Washington, DC O.U.C.!!!!! What’s going to take to get people working up there that have more then a middle school education??? People dying??? No that’s already happened, how about FF’s dying will that change that craphole of an operation????? Stay safe out there citizens/DCFD.

  • Anonymous NOVA EngineDriver

    total incompetence, but not surprising from DC Fire Communications. What is even more surprising is listening to US Park Police butcher the location as well. If the dispatcher was too lazy or incompetent to get up and go to the big map-o-wallo, put out an in the area of Military Rd cut job. Mil Rd is barely 3 miles long from Georgia Av to Wisconsin. Worry about the fine details for the reports later. Rescue 2 could’ve been there within 4 minutes coming from quarters, and they wouldn’t have to look at a map either. If FFs are held to a standard of knowing their jurisdiction, then the same should be for all emergency personnel.

  • DCFDmember

    It was surprising to hear the Park Police Communications personnel be totally lost too. It sounded like they quit on the caller as soon as they heard that it wasn’t exactly in the park.


    Dave I work parttime as a 9-1-1 operator and if I bungled a call like that I’m afraid I’d have to hang my hat up….for good.

  • Comm Chief Steve

    What a shame. On behalf of all competent 911 supervisors and call takers working across this great country, I apologize to the victims as well as the caller. Every CAD system ever made has a feature whereby a generic location “Military Road” could be entered, landmarks given as part of the text, and the mask passed along to the proper dispatch agency. If I understand correctly, Military Road is 3 miles in length. Wouldn’t the call taker know what agency would respond to this area? If nothing else, why not call Fire/EMS dispatch and relay what you have? (within the first 2 minutes of the initial call) Surely they’d have figured out that the call was located on Military between the overpass for Beach and underpass for 16th, had the 2 streets been mentioned. Instead, the call taker does nothing but fool around with her computer at the expense of the injured and frustrated caller. Hopefully that call taker is no longer on the job.
    The 911 director thought she did a good job? There’s a big part of the problem. Obviously the director needs to go, and the program needs to be re-evaluated.
    As far as the caller, I think she deserves a medal for having to put up with gross incompetence. If I were her, I’d have hung up and re-dialed with hopes of reaching someone that knew what they were doing.

  • DCFDmember

    The current director is acting like the first director that was there when the OUC was established as a separate agency a few years ago. Every time a complaint was made that first director would put out a statement saying that the situation was investigated and nothing was found to be done wrong. It was ridiculous as the facts were clearly in the open and it was clear that a mistake(s) were made. But somehow he didn’t find anything wrong.

  • Brooks

    1) the caller gave enough information
    2) even if the caller could only identify that the incident occurred on Military Rd, the OUC should have a run card for, and the FD should have a procedure for the situation when that’s all you’ve got. (send one unit from one end, and one from the other would work)

  • Retired Dispatcher

    I spent 15 minutes on the phone with an Onstar caller once who was calling for an ambulance because she was having a panic attack while driving. She was unable to state her location, was truly frantic. The GPS on her vehicle placed the car at a specific intersection in the city. We had an ambulance at that intersection looking all around, and failing to find her car.

    I struggled and struggled with the Onstar operator and the caller to figure out the problem. Finally I got on Google maps to look at the area. Highway flyovers! She was on a flyover, OVER the intersection. Right. Note to self, Onstar can tell the elevation of the vehicles, too.

    What seemed like forever, trying to figure out that location taught me a lot about GPS. I was on an online topo map of the city, plotting the coordinates manually, on Google maps, struggling with our CAD.

    I’m with Dave, this one is a human failure. I can’t believe the caller stuck it out and remained calm as long as she did. I would not spend more than 2 minutes trying to convince an idiot of my location.

  • Brokenhearted

    In response to “Anonymous NOVA EngineDriver”, because these needs to be very clear. This dispatcher works for the Office of Unified Communications. This is not DC Fire Dispatching, or DC Fire Communications, it is a completely separate entity which the Fire Department does not have any control over. Problems like this really started to arise when the OUC became it’s own entity, not under DCFD.

  • Dali lama

    If nayone of you out there thinks that this same situation doesn’t happen every single hour of every single day in 911 centers across this country…you’re an idiot.
    Just like everyday a cop blows off the potential of violance later on a call because he’s lazy and doesn’t want the paperwork.
    Just like when a house burns to the ground because of incompetant firemen, no hydrants, high wind, poor tactics, firemen afraid to enter the building.
    Just like people dying bacause of poor EMS services, missing something in the vital signs, extended ETA because no EMS units available, meds not given, going through the motions of CPR, etc
    BAd Doctors having their patients die because of surgical mistakes, bad diagnosis, over prescribing drugs, etc tec
    This stuff happens everyday…every single day, every single hour in the USA…and its never news until somebody finds out about it and its the lead story at 11:00.
    People are human and mistakes will be made, but before all you high and mighty stone thrower cast those stones, remember all your mistakes you’ve made in your career. And if you say you’ve never made a mistake in your career you’re name is either Captain Jesus H. Christ or you’re an idiot in denial.

    • dave statter

      Dali Lama,

      But the point is this isn’t a mistake just like this isn’t a “glitch” in the system. The 911 director told Mark Segraves that the call taker did a good job and followed “protocol”. Protocol should be that we have people who are trained to know the geography of the city. They should know how and where Rock Creek Park cuts through the city and that Beach Drive, along with Rock Creek Parkway is a major park route. Protocol should be if that information isn’t in their head to quickly consult a map to see if that will help the call taker understand some pretty clear information from the caller. Protocol should be iof all that fails to get a supervisor’s help and hopefully that supervisor will have enough knowledge of the city to instantly know this information.

      Yes people make mistakes in all of the jobs you mentioned. But this isn’t a mistake, this is a symptom of a much bigger problem. If this was a mistake the 911 director would say we had a call taker who didn’t follow protocol.


  • Anonymous

    Saying that Beach and Military don’t intersect is like saying Rts 4 and 495 don’t intersect … familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction, ask for help, or move out … lots of people looking for jobs … just sayin

  • Anonymous NOVA EngineDriver

    @ Brokenhearted, thanks for clearing that up, I’m sometimes unsure how things behind the scenes work over there. Another point to add, surely this can’t be the first crash on Military Rd in that area, how have these calls been entered into CAD and dispatched before?

  • Al

    How about a wider solution to the problem which is way too much reliance on street address or intersections in CAD, but also involves a paradigm shift of geospatial referencing which not difficult to understand? 1) must use a map that has a grid. A map without a grid is just a picture. How does anyone refer to a point on the map that is shown on this story? 2) should use something that is standard and fully interoperable with multiple organizations. 3) something that could be entered into GPS easily 4) which works for streets, open fields or deep woods where there is no address. Does it exist? Yes. it is US NATIONAL GRID, a national standard that is easy to learn & understand, is x-y plotting, like in grade school with rules “right, then up” and which is found in all hand-held and some vehicle type GPS units. In very little time, I determined that the subject location is either in one of two 1 kilometer squares; 18S UJ 22 14 or 18S UJ 23 14. Now, some advantages, if the responder’s first due area all day is within 18S UJ, the dispatcher & responder can truncate the 18S UJ, meaning locations of 1 km square can be referred to by FOUR numbers. Locations of 100 meters (320 feet) square can be referred to by SIX numbers and locations of 10 meters (32 feet) square can be referred to by EIGHT numbers alone. How simple is that? So, back to this subject location, using this web tool: (turn on the grids, upper right) it appears to me that the location to 100 meters is: 230 144. So, a responder, if they had a map with grid on it would find 1 Km square 23 14 and inside of it go 0% right and 40% up, and that would be a 100 meter square area to begin looking in. The dispatcher could advise the streets, intersection, etc AND coordinate “230 144″. A responder, with a $250 Garmin Nuvi 500 GPS on the dashboard could direct enter 18S UJ 23000 14000 and be routed to the location with turn by turn directions. Recommendations: eliminate “bingo” grids from you map books and use US NATIONAL GRID. Examples of interoperability maps for NINETEEN (19) states are here:


    Begin using US NATIONAL GRID. Every street address can be mapped to a 100 meter or 10 meter square. E911 data should include USNG. ADD USNG to every dispatch not unlike: “repond to 123 Jones Avenue, grid 432 891 for a medical”. What if mutual aid is covering your station that day? the 432 891 helps them. If USNG use was routine always, when something large happens, all are already familiar. WHAT IS MOST NEEDED? LEADERSHIP on the issue. The military figured it out in circa 1947, the Fire Service is that far behind regarding a common geospatial platform. By the way US NATIONAL GRID was developed by a citizen’s committee and is functionally identical to Military Grid Reference System. Every past & present military person is familiar with this grid system. See this website:

    Every reader of this can have MGRS/USNG on their smart phone for costs of $1 to $9 in less than 10 minutes. What if the citizens of your jurisdication were told that and started calling in grid coordinates to your 9-1-1 center?

    See this prior Statter911 article:

    After action reports all the way back to hurricane Andrew exist that recommend the need for a common operating geospatial reference system that has no jurisdictional boundaries….US NATIONAL GRID.

    auto-reply will issue from… for more information on this subject.

    • Brooks

      You’re probably right. However, this fix probably a real big deal for the DCFD. Like London Taxi Drivers, we don’t use map books.

      Our drivers study, are tested, and are expected to know all the streets in their area. Like Dave, I am 100% certain that anyone in the 5 closest stations could have found westbout Beach Drive right before Beach Drive. At least by field units, no “bingo” grid or any other references are used, so there’s nothing to replace.

      As far as dispatching is concerned, streets and street numbers are far more useful than a map grid. People think and live in a world with streets that connect to each other, not grid numbers.

      If we used map grids, I’d back you 100% on replacing them with a national standard.

      • Brooks

        edit: …probably *ISN’T* a really big deal…

  • Dali lama

    Ask that 911 director, How many hours a month are 911 call takers and dispatchers put out on the street learning their response districts?
    Not sitting in a room looking at maps, out on the streets with someone intimately familiar with an area showing them the nooks and crannies. I’ll bet its a big fat 0

  • E

    When the bridge carrying Military Rd collapsed onto Beach Dr about 15 years ago, killing one worker, and causing another to have his leg amputated on the scene, units were dispatched to the location. How can it not be found now?

    • dave statter

      Remember it well and thought about that when I first heard this call. Thanks.


  • P.J. Norwood

    Dave, Generally speaking all too often the dispatcher is blamed for errors or mistakes. But, we need to ask why these errors happen. I believe it’s bigger then just individual “human error”. All to often the dispatch center employees are treated like the forgotten child until something goes wrong. Then they are an easy target to blame. The system fails more often then the employees. They rarely receive the necessary training more then their original orientation to the position. Rarely do communication managers invest money and time in these employees. If you look at the many “dispatch errors” you will find a list of preventable issues that are not always the employees fault.

    I had this article published a few years ago which may be an interest the followers of this article.


    • dave statter


      I agree with you. This is not a case of dispatcher error. Particularly when the 911 director says she did a good job and followed protocol.


  • Anonymous

    The comments seem to all speak of what could/should have been done in a timely fashion. Even with today’s 21st century technology the Human Element/The Dispatcher has an equal responsibility to Learn/Understand every Main Thoroughfare within Washington, DC. Whynot could a Location “On Military Road Between Beach Drive Overpass”. In the Remarks section of the CAD Screen include also near 16th Street underpass. I agree with a previous comment “Send Apparatus from both ends of Military Road. I am inclined to believe one of the Responding Apparatus would have arrived upon the scene Location as it was reported very quickly. The Director of the 911 Center spoke prematurely in stating the Call taker acted appropriately within protocol Guidelines. It is quite apparent the call taker didnot do so. The job of any Dispatcher is to receive and process a 911 Emergency, thereby reassuring the calling party help is on the way. A 911 caller is experiencing the worst day of their Life. In this incident the woman was on the scene, witnessing a tragedy reporting what she’s seeing. An Innocent Soul appears possibly to be Deceased, another Innocent Soul Injured. She wan’t able to get the immediate 911 assistance needed. The ultimate result “DELAYED RESPONSE” As for Training yes there are ways/methods Dispatchers can/must be Trained. The Director of the 91`1 Center and the Supervisory Staff should all get together and create an Internal Training Program. ie; Say perhaps on a weekly basis.
    Every aspect of 911 Center Operations must be brought about to each Dispatcher. Some methods can be a written weekly Training program which may include listing and pointing out on a Map possibly a written and/or a Wall Map, every main Thorioughfare in the city. Until an all out effort is brought to become an integral part of OUC Operations, even with Soft Ware Technology
    The Dispatcher must realize and fully understand that he/she plays an important role to ensure the CAD System works. Training can even go so far as having Dispatchers ride along with DCFD/Metropolitan Police, and the US Park Police to learn and understand how the Dispachers job interacts and is critically important to impact with these Agencies. It can be done, it just takes a Professional Initiative by everyone.

    Have a Nice day

    Whynot could have the Location,”On Military Road between Overpass at Beach Drive, and/or include in the remarks section of the CAD also near 16th Street underpass.
    If any perceived problem with CAD Location continued, I agree with a previous comment send Apparatus from both ends of Military Road. One of those Responding Apparatus obviously would have come upon the scene location as was reported by 911 calling party.

  • Mason/Dixon Firefighter

    When I worked in a 911 Center years ago during the advent of CAD, we where able to override the CAD system itself. This allowed call takers and dispatchers to enter the call and dispatch it. We kept the caller on the line to continue to provide information and the dispatcher was able to guide responding units to the location of the emergency. Today it seems we are a society of technology and if the computer doesn’t spit out the address then the caller and their emergency are S.O.L. Its hard to believe no one can think on their fee anymore. This was definitely a training issue which can and should be easily resolved.

  • Legeros

    Interesting story. Is the wave of the future, moving from veteran “dispatchers” to task-performing people a few steps removed from their all-knowing predecessors?

    Makes you wonder if call centers could or will one day be used, in regions far removed from their service areas.

  • WVFirefighter

    That moron dispatcher needs to be fired. I am sorry do not use technology as an excuse to not have common sense to look at the map and see Military Rd and then see 16th St and Beach Dr and LISTEN to what the caller is telling you and use your freaking head to send help to the proper location. I understand the CAD may not have the address, because Beach Dr does not technically intersect with Military Rd, but the caller does not see it that way. Us, as emergency responders, and yes I count dispatchers as emergency responders, are expected by our bosses, the public and administrators, to apply good common sense and good judgement to high stress situations, that is what we are trained for. Please do not blame this on a technical glitch! Most CAD systems allow manual address entry and directions. I cant speak with complete accuracy, because I did not hear the first call, but did it take 6 mins for the dispatcher to send the call to Fire/EMS/Police? Who was the other male dispatcher she called at almost 6 mins?

  • Dali lama

    As dispatching centers get larger and larger and dispatch larger and larger areas, the knowledge the dispatcher has of their dispatching area becomes weaker and weaker. There is no “good dispatcher training” out there. Its all a joke.
    Example “The English bobbies tapped their batons on a fence or light pole 3 times to signal other bobbies they needed help” WHo freakin cares????
    WHo cares that police used to broadcast over am radio stations 60 years ago.

    To be a good dispatcher you must know your area…not just street names..but you should be able to visualize the streets from 1st hand knowledge. You should be able to know what businesses are on what side of the street.
    By going to large area dispatch centers, unfortunately you lost that dispatcher knowledge. When we worked for 1 city and we lived there, we knew the city like the back of our hands. Now forget it…how can you know a whole county…you can’t period.
    911 managers could care less about in house training that means anything…they don’t have enough money in their budgets to put dispatchers on the street and learn.
    the only thing that a CAD understands is something that was enterred into the GEO files when programmed. The best you can hope to do is force grid a location by municipality and hope some units come up on a generic runcard.

    All thses wonderful things everybody on here says will fix the problems are MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR PROGRAMS OR PROGRAMS THAT COST MILLIONS TO PRODUCE.
    The dispatcher still makes crap wages—wheres your money better spent?

  • 911 Outrage

    The OUC response to this situationis unbelieveable. The streets do intersect by way of ramps. Ramps are part of the road network. Even if the new software was missing this infornation, this road is a MAJOR thourough fare in the District. This is completely unexcusable. Besides all that, one has to ask, what happened to E911? Arent all cell phone calls to 911 supposed to supply latitude and longitude coordinates that are plotted on the map? What happened to that part of the system? Did the call taker EVER look at the CAD map? Did the call taker ask a supervisor for assistitance?

    What if the caller was in a ditch? or dragged into the woods by a predator and calling for help? Oh sorry, your not on the map so we cant help you? Even if you dont fire someone – go back to teh basics of situational awareness. Cab drivers used to have to pass a test of basic knowledge of the city. Dont 911 emergency personell? what kills me is there are 20something other people in the dispatch center at all times who would know exactly where this is and the call taker did not seek assistance in a timely fashion. Unbelieveable.

  • Race Track Rudy

    25 years ago we used “Light Duty” firefighters to dispatch 911 calls…..A “Civilian” with no fire or ems training, and no knowledge as to the layout of the city is the reason we have these so called “Glitches”……When 911 calls were received at 300 Indiana and routed to Police or fire was a much better system. Those “call takers” now don’t know the difference between a standpipe pack or a standpipe riser….Put the firefighters back to dispatching fire calls….

    • MDF

      Yes, put the firefighters back in communications who do not want to be there, are on light duty, or have no clue what Phase I, Phase II, VOIP, CLEC, or ELEC are. That must be the solution. Sike.

      Look, you can argue that firefighters are good dispatchers because of their knowledge of the fire service, and right after I’ll tell you that non-firefighter dispatchers are more knowledgeable about the technological features that are becoming more and more a part of our job.

      You are on to something about separating fire and police, though. Fire/EMS Communications and law enforcement communications are two different disciplines, tho.

      • Brooks

        What’s an ELEC and what does that have to do with dispatching fire trucks to fires?

  • Ol Skool 86

    this happens all the time even dispatching house fires.Most of those dispatchers are horrible.Bottom line is this,she should of sent units to Military and Beach and the firemen would of found the car even if its a bad address. The dc firemen know that area very well

  • Anonymous

    The call taker couldhave/shouldhave loked at a Map as was commented. Look for a Landmark such as St. John’s College School. Looking at the Map realizing the calling party did state “West Bound Military Road” OK how far was/is St. John’s College School from where Military Road does Intersect as was commented with Beach Drive by means of an Overpass. It intersects with 16th Street by means of an underpass. Whynot then didnot the call taker a “Hundred Block of Military Road”?
    That probably would have been accepted in CAD. In the comments/remarks section of CAD Location Run Sheet, enter “Military Road vicinity of Beach Drive Overpass”. This was a Basic CAD Dispatch with absolutely detailed/descriptive Location and scene information. Without question DCFD/EMS would have Responded quickly and came upon the scene without any difficulty. It is a True statement that Management doesnot always recognize 911 Center Professionals, and yes these people are Professional in the course of their duties. This unfortunately was an isolated case. Yes it is also True the ewxpense of sending Dispatchers out to Learn is very expensive.
    However so are Civil lawsuits due to either carelessness, or untrained people. There are/is any number of ways and means with Internal Resources as needed to conduct Internal Shift
    Personnel Training. This measure can/will only come into reality if/when the 911 Center Director, Supervisory Staff all
    Think and Believe as one unit.

    Come on People Get it Together NOW, before another Innocent Soul is Sacrificed.

  • Anonymous NOVA EngineDriver

    It shouldn’t be about field training these dispatchers by sending them out to drive territory. The only thing they’ll learn is where Dunkin Donuts is. Mandate routine map training. Call it CDE, continual dispatcher training. The ADC wall maps are great and are very easy to read with an attached street index. Map reading skill should be tested during the hiring process, and continually practiced throughout. What’s really disturbing is the call takers lack of urgency in locating the accident. It’s not like a typical BS call of a wire down, or a homeless person sleeping on a bench. The urgency of the callers voice and her detailed description of the scene should’ve put some asses in high gear.

  • NJSteve


    Since this story generated a lot of interest, any chance you could try to get recordings of the initial call and radio transmissions and post them? They might also be interesting to hear. Its always nice how you add the maps to your stories. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    Nothing will happen to the dispatcher nor will anything change at OUC. You know OUC is a lot like a weather person, they can give you the wrong information and still have a job the next day. Maybe the Mayor will see the problems OUC has and step in and make a change before someone else gets hurt or killed.

  • Dali lama

    If you think just looking at maps is gonna be the training dispatchers need….you ain’t a dispatcher.
    Firemen and cops and EMS guys don’t learn their response area by looking at maps. They get out and drive them.

    You are in denial…you must be a 911 manager…LOL….well really its not funny….its sad.

  • FF Fred

    Puttin firemen in the radio room is a great use of “talented resources”
    Then I say put dispatchers in the fire trucks, it can’t be that hard of a job……
    Just using your logic

  • Anonymous

    This Tragic inexcusable incident at OUC points out the need and
    urgency to ensure every employee working in tha OUC is trained to a Level of Competence with individual skills. Each comment has spoken in volumes how,why,whynot when,where, who the call taker didnot process this 911 Emergency. It would be redundant to repeat and speak of the Failure that occurred. What is important now, “Lessons Learned”. One can only wonder/speculate if you will if the Director of 911 Center has/maintains the full scope and perspective of the importance to receive 911 calls, and deliver Professional Service in a timely fashion? Here we have our nation’s Capitol 911 center with somewhat of a breakdown in Training and ensuring good
    Quality Employee performance. With today’s Society as it relates to Public Safety, possible Terrorist attacks against our people. Being the center of the free world, Washington, DC
    should have/must have the very best 21st Century Technology
    and the very best Human Element to make the Technology work. Here was an Incident where everything was given with precise 911 information and the system/including the Human Element Failed. What would occur if 911 calls began in rapid succession and the call taker either became overwhelmed with Location, Type of 911 Emergency? The facts surrounding this incident speak volumes for the Sense of urgency OUC needs to Focus all Priorities in bringing about the required/expected
    911 Emergency Operations, to ensure the people of their Public
    Safety. “Where are The Priorities”?

  • Clad Cromwell

    I probably shouldn’t bother beating this horse, but…
    Back in the day, even before E was screaming on the vocalalrm; we had more seasoned dispatchers who kept their jobs long enough to learn the layout of the city. They were good, but even the best sometimes had trouble deciphering some garbled info from an excited citizen.
    On more than one occasion; I happened to be the person who picked up the phone to have one of these people ask me to try and figure out what they were being told. Not because of my expertise, but because it sounded like a location in our first due. We came up with the best guess and then put units on the street to figure it out. The human element out performed technology.

    I do not want to slam OUC, because I do not want their job. But I would like to encourage them to do better and let them know they can ask for help if they need it. I am fairly confidant that if they had called any 4th or 5th battalion unit (by phone or radio) they would have been given some useful info.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to the last comment by Dali Lama where the statement “just looking at the Map isnot all the Training Dispatchers need”. With all due Respect, I am a retired Veteran Fire lieutenant in 911 Center. The Agency where the Employee/Dispatcher works is responsible to provide the necessary Resources to Employees to assist them in achieving
    their best potential through skill levels in all aspects. If
    not looking at Maps is not a Priority then whynot did the call taker know the Geography within the city? as has been stated and is a fact, Military Road, Beach Drive, and 16th Street are all primary Main throroughfares in the District. Looking at the Map either/or both an ADC Wall Map/Book and the CAD Screen
    this is a Training Resource that is absolutely valuable for all 911 call takers/Dispatchers to learn and know. The fact of the matter is, the call taker apparently didnot seek out/ask for any help from Supervisor/other on duty shift employees. As was also commented the call taker could have/should have, contacted a Station in either 4th or 5th Battalion and explained there is an incident, however unsure of the exact location. One can only believe beyond any doubt someone at one the Fire/EMS Stations would have provided a direct help in the location given a Hundred Block of Military Road. The bottom line line here, without predjudice towards OUC, and the employees a seroious mistake occurred. This mistake caused the absolutely dreaded result. “DELAYED RESPONSE” with an Innocent Soul Sacrificed. Yes there are/is any number of ways and means to put together an Internal Training Program which can only enhance job skills, and knowledge. The Firefighters/Rescuers cannot due their job performance, unless/until the 911 Center Call takers/Dispatchers have received, processed and Dispatched the appropritae Emergency response Assignment in the
    expected timely fashion. Think about it people.

    Thank You

  • Clark de Bear

    What happened to the day when dispatchers actually knew there coverage areas? I recall a time when not knowing roadways – specifically major roadways – and landmarks was a reason a person would NOT be hired.

    Call someone a dispatcher, give them a phone and a CAD system without a familiarity of their coverage area is like calling someone a firefighter, giving them bunker gear and a half-million dollar piece of apparatus with no knowledge of firefighting. It doesn’t make sense.

    This entire episode could have and SHOULD HAVE been prevented.

  • Justathought

    Dave, Maybe she the Dispatch director should of attended your class at Va Beach. Maybe then she would have come up with something better for the reporters and the family members of those lost.

  • Anonymous

    The comments spoken by the Director 911 Center seemed prematurely at the onset of this situation. Standing up for her Employee is the sign of a caring Manager. However in making the statement “Call Taker did follow Protocol, and did a good job” was at best a preconceived perspective that if it isn’t recognized in CAD don’t worry it’s a Glitch in CAD. This is a wrong message to send to employees. Without repeating any of the ugly details, what that statement suggests is Employees did their job the problem is with CAD Technology. In this situation the Human Element with whatever knowledge was apparent wasnot the over riding factor. The Director 911 Center
    just might rethink her words, and evaluate the facts surrounding everything that Transpired. One can think and speculate what the Director’s thoughts and words are/will be
    to explain what went wrong to the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety. The three most important and relevant factors here are,
    (1) 14 minute Delayed Response, (2) Innocent Soul sacrificed,
    (3) Lack of working knowledge of Geography within the city.
    Hopefully after a thorough After Action Review, a True Professional Resolve will be in place.

    Thank You

  • chiefbobr

    In the old days (yeah, I know everyone always starts out saying that), but Dave will remember the note posted on the console in the old PGFD comm center for everyone to see: “When in doubt, send SOMETHING”! This is the kind of snafu that happens when you don’t have anyone in the comm center who’s familiar with the city or with the capabilities of Fire/Rescue. My question is: where was the Comm supervisor during the course of this mess?

  • Anonymous

    The last comment was absolutely right on the money. In the center of any 911 call where there seems,appears to be any doubt as to location etc; The sign in the PGFD Communications Center spells it out correctly. “WHEN IN DOUBT TURN THEM OUT”
    911 Center always sends something. One piece of Apparatus or possibly two as in this case. An EMS Unit and an Engine to Investigate. As a retired 911 Center Supervisor I always stressed to employees gather any/all relevant 911 information and send something. Never delay a Response, nor ignore hoping another 911 call will come in. The Director 911 Center here should already have instilled this Professional Concept with her Employees. If not she needs to undertake this issue immediately with a sense of urgency.

    Thank You

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  • ElieC

    Wow – I did a search on this as it was a year ago that it occurred and wish I had seen these posts back then. I am the caller…an still not really confident in the system new or old.
    The first call contained the same location information. I phoned as I jumped the jersey wall to try to help. As the people in the truck did not speak any English, it took a minute to figure out there was someone trapped. I hung up to get people out of their cars to help pull the tree off of the truck. Most of the people just sat there and stared – there was a great tow truck drive who helped and we knocked on windows until we had enough help. So there was enough time for all of that – and the tree was not easy to move as my bruised ribs told me so that took a while to do. So my guess is that there was another 7-8 minutes between calling the first time and getting that tree moved.
    Anyway, thanks for the discussion thread. I called WTOP as I wanted people to get talking about it…maybe one day all of our systems will be better managed.