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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 STATter911.com 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.

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