You have to give Muriel Bowser, the new mayor in DC, credit for a quick re-grouping in handling the Metro crisis after Monday’s incident where one woman died and 84 others were taken to the hospital after a subway train became trapped in a smoke filled tunnel. Following much criticism Tuesday and Wednesday because even a basic timeline wasn’t being released showing DC’s response, Bowser came up with one. And now today (Saturday), a pretty thorough preliminary report has been released by the DC government. This is a response from DC that we have rarely seen in the past.
This detailed report took just five days to complete. The previous administration of Gray/Quander/Ellerbe took an entire month before providing a report about the death of Cecil Mills across the street from a DC firehouse. The Mills incident was a lot less complicated response than what occurred Monday on Metro. Yet, after all that time, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander missed key points and failed to provide any of the documentation you will find in the preliminary Metro report. Hopefully Mayor Bowser is setting a new standard for her administration and future administrations to follow.
When you combine the DC report with the preliminary findings released yesterday from NTSB there is some clarity emerging. What sticks out to me is that despite being handicapped by Metro not reporting the incident at L’Enfant Plaza for as long as seven minutes, the DC 911 center (Office of Unified Communications or OUC) taking 6 minutes to dispatch the call and Metro taking its usual long time in verifying that third rail power was cut, the DC Fire & EMS Department performed quite well.
In particular, the actions of Rescue Squad 1, the first unit on the scene, are worth noting. Determining the seriousness of the situation, the crew went into the tunnel without direct verification from Metro’s Operations Control Center that power was down. In the document, make sure you read the written statement from the officer of Rescue Squad 1.
The DC report also confirms previous news reports of radio problems in the tunnels and gives the first indication that Metro had been notified four days earlier by email (included in the report) that there was no radio coverage inside L’Enfant Plaza. The antennas and repeater systems in the tunnels and stations are Metro’s responsibility.
The report has transcripts of many of the 911 calls received at OUC. While it probably worked in their favor in the long run, it’s astounding that the initial report of a fire on the tracks at the Gallery Place station was only given a one engine response and not the full Metro box alarm. Even then, as previously reported, it still took OUC five minutes to dispatch that call and then six minutes to send the full assignment once the initial report of fire at L’Enfant Plaza was received.
While the DC government has no control over the mess at Metro, OUC is now the problem of the new mayor. Let’s hope that this will bring Mayor Bowser and her administration to realize that professional management, a serious upgrade in training and some real transparency are needed at DC’s 911 center. All of that is long overdue.