News

UPDATE: DC 911 director gone – Jennifer Greene wanted to lower standards that center couldn’t meet

UPDATE

On Sunday evening, we published this column, breaking the news that the head of DC’s 911 center thinks the answer to the problem of not being able to process calls within 90 seconds is to look at lowering the standard. Yesterday (Monday), Jennifer Greene departed her post as director of the Office of Unified Communications, DC’s 911 center.

I have no clue if Greene’s testimony was the reason for her departure or if the timing is just coincidental. Yesterday was also the first day for Gregory Dean, the new chief of the DC Fire & EMS Department.


EARLIER

DC’s 911 director, Jennifer Greene, says the 911 center in the Nation’s Capital is regularly unable to meet the call handling standard set by both her agency and the National Fire Protection Association and that it’s been that way for a long time. In testimony before the DC City Council last Monday, Greene said this problem has the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) looking at the possibility of lowering the internal standard.

Previous coverage of DC 911

Full disclosure: The issue of call handling times came up at the OUC budget hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary because I brought it up. I testified before Chairman Kenyan McDuffie about the slow dispatch times and other OUC issues at the same hearing just prior to Greene’s appearance. In addition, I talked about these problems during the budget hearing earlier in the day for the DC Fire & EMS Department. Council member McDuffie’s office had become aware of my strong criticism of OUC after the deadly January 12 Metro incident and asked that I share those concerns at the hearings. (Video of my testimony is further down in this post. Both hearings, in their entirety, can be found here.)

OUC’s own monthly stats show the average time it takes to dispatch an emergency call once it is answered is usually between two-minutes-thirty-seconds and three-minutes. Upon questioning by McDuffie, Greene and her staff offered few specifics on what causes the lengthy call processing time (see video below on slow call handling times). In general, the OUC leadership blamed it on the large number of mobile calls and call takers providing instructions to callers with medical problems.

When asked what she thinks is a more reasonable standard, Jennifer Greene replied:

We shoot for that one minute and thirty seconds but we don’t make it. And it looks like we’re deficient when, in fact, we are, actually probably better than our counterparts in this area or, at least, equivalent to our counterparts. And so, we need to definitely look at our standard and make it more realistic and achievable.

If you listen to the testimony you will hear that, despite how long this has been a problem, Jennifer Greene and her staff really haven’t studied what the root causes are for call handling times that are almost double their own standard. Yet she is publicly mulling over the idea of moving toward a lower standard.

Maybe Ms. Greene’s testimony alone really tells us all we need to know about why it takes so long for calls to be processed in the Nation’s Capital. It appears to me, as it has for a while, that if you really want to cure what ails DC 911 you need to start at the top.

A new agency head is starting in DC tomorrow (Monday) morning with the arrival of Gregory Dean as chief of the DC Fire and EMS Department. As I said in my testimony and in previous posts, if Chief Dean is going to make progress in finally improving EMS in the District of Columbia, new leadership is also needed at 911.

NFPA 1221 call handling time
From NFPA 1221

Related Articles

Close