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Trump administration appoints DC 911 director to FirstNet board

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross picks Karima Holmes as one of two new board members

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Someone should buy the Trump administration a free subscription to STATter911.com. If they were regular followers, maybe they would have had second thoughts before announcing a recent appointment. Karima Holmes has been named as one of two new members to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board. Holmes is the director of the problem-plagued 911 center in the Nation’s Capital, known as the Office of Unified Communications (OUC). STATter911 has featured DC911 quite regularly over many years.

To be fair, OUC was a mess long before the arrival of Karima Holmes. Unfortunately, it has remained a mess during her almost four-years as director. Here’s the appointment announcement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:

“These experienced, highly qualified new Board members will ensure FirstNet continues to deliver for America’s emergency responders,” said Secretary Ross. “I thank our new members for bringing their leadership to the Board and guiding FirstNet in its mission to save lives and keep our communities safe.”

Secretary Ross appointed two members to the FirstNet Authority Board:

  • Karima Holmes, Director, Office of Unified Communications, Washington, D.C., supervises all of the District’s emergency 911 and basic city service 311 call activities. She led efforts to prepare the District’s dispatch centers to accept Next-Generation 911.

  • Matt Slinkard, Executive Assistant Chief of Police, Houston, Texas, serves as an executive command officer with the Houston Police Department where he manages the investigative and special operations functions that include 22 divisions and five commands.

Read entire announcement

Any 911 center is going to have incidents that don’t go well. That doesn’t necessarily mean the director is a poor leader or should be blamed directly. My problem with the leadership of Karima Holmes is that the same issues keep happening and her excuses and solutions lack transparency and even credibility. At the bottom of this column are the OUC stories I’ve posted since Holmes took over in January of 2016 that inform this conclusion.

What may be the most bizarre and telling story about OUC is one I failed to post. It was reported by Paul Wagner at WTTG-TV/FOX5 two-years-ago this week. It was about an issue that developed as soon as DC implemented PulsePoint. DC firefighters who put the app on their phone were noticing how long it was taking OUC to dispatch emergency calls. PulsePoint in DC was initially keyed to when call takers entered the incident into the computer. According to reporter Wagner, when he confronted OUC about the lengthy dispatching delays Holmes initially denied that was the case. DC Fire & EMS Chief Gregory Dean then confirmed Wagner was correct and Holmes was wrong.

A rational action by the OUC director might be to work harder to improve call processing times, which have always been a problem at DC911. Sadly, the OUC response to Wagner’s discovery was anything but rational. It was decided the best way to deal with this issue was to delay putting information out to PulsePoint until the call was actually dispatched. As Wagner reported, this can mean a loss of minutes before alerting the public that someone nearby is in cardiac arrest. If the goal of PulsePoint is to get CPR started and an AED applied ASAP, that decision seems self-defeating. (NOTE: While the news report indicates PulsePoint does not get the calls until they are dispatched, I have been told the exception to that are cardiac arrest calls which go to PulsePoint when they are entered into CAD.)

Like the PulsePoint decision, there have been lot of responses to news media questions by Ms. Holmes and her staff that don’t make much sense. Just look at the controversial August incident where a child and adult were trapped inside a burning home at 708 Kennedy Street, NW. It took four-minutes from the time a police officer called in the fire by radio until DC Fire & EMS was dispatched. Karima Holmes defended her staff, saying that call was well-handled by OUC. Holmes justified this by claiming it’s not necessarily the speed of the dispatch but the “quality” of the call that’s important. In another response to questions about Kennedy Street, an OUC spokeswoman said it takes longer to process an emergency called in by radio as opposed to one called in by telephone. Huh?

Since that August fire, there have been two incidents on the Metro subway system where there was confusion and delayed dispatches by OUC, Holmes has not publicly addressed either incident.

One thing remains clear about OUC under Karima Holmes. The 911 center is still unable to meet NFPA standards on call processing times. That was the case before Holmes arrived and remains the case almost four-years-later. Here’s a thought. Maybe Karima Holmes should focus her efforts on getting 911 in DC to meet national standards before advising a national board about the future of public safety communications in the U.S.

Here’s another thought. The best first step in solving the many problems at OUC is for Karima Holmes to publicly acknowledge they exist. While Holmes, her bosses and the DC Council refuse to admit it, there’s a 911 crisis in the Nation’s Capital. People are suffering and dying because of the daily confusion and delay at OUC. Instead of making ridiculous excuses about reoccurring failures, Holmes should address all of this head-on and be transparent about the problems. Then she should tell us her plan to fix DC911. If this actually occurred and positive changes were finally made, I would be writing columns supporting the appointment of Karima Holmes to any board she wants.

Here’s your OUC reader:

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