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So, I’m not crazy after all. I think. Actually, it’s a mixed verdict. If you’ve been following STATter911 here and on Twitter you know I’ve been on a mission since October trying to bring renewed attention to serious communication problems at both DC 911 and the region’s Metrorail system. I learned yesterday (Thursday) my safety crusade made a positive difference on the Metro end and–at the same time–really pissed off some who work at the DC 911 center.
Let’s start with the good and somewhat strange news. Metro says it has discovered–thanks to the series of STATter911 stories about delays dispatching firefighters to rail emergencies–that it has been using the wrong number to contact DC 911 for the past eight years. The news broke during a DC Council hearing where I testified yesterday (my testimony is at the bottom of this post). This new information came from Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Director Karima Holmes during her answer to Council member Charles Allen’s questions about a list of Metro/OUC delays I provided Allen’s office (watch and listen above).
Shortly after the testimony from Holmes, WTOP Radio reporter Megan Cloherty received confirmation from Metro spokesman Dan Stessel that the numbers programmed into the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) consoles reached DC 911 on non-emergency type lines instead of lines that were answered right-away. Those numbers–apparently provided by OUC–were programmed when ROCC moved to Maryland in 2012. With Metro calling DC 911, as Holmes testified, “a dozen times a day”, you have to wonder why OUC didn’t flagged this problem a long time ago.
Stessel told me Metro began investigating the fire department notification issue after I questioned him in November about an 11-minute delay dispatching DC Fire & EMS to a small fire on a platform at the Gallery Place Metro Station. Metro continued to track down the problem as STATter911 reported more dispatching delays through early January.
Because the call was coming from Maryland, the number wasn’t 911 but rather a 10-digit number that Metro programmed into its phone system to reach dispatchers if there was an emergency on one of its trains or buses in D.C.
“Metro and the 24-hour fire department liaison assigned to Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center began investigating isolated incidents in which calls to emergency services were encountering hold times before reaching a 911 operator,” Stessel said in a statement to WTOP.
“Metro immediately reached out through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and requested each jurisdiction to provide their 911-equivalent telephone number, and these numbers have been programmed and tested across all phones in the Control Center for each jurisdiction we serve,” Stessel said in a statement.
While the wrong numbers are an important finding, it’s certainly not the only reason for the delays dispatching DC Fire & EMS. Metro is still looking at its notification procedures and STATte911 has documented lengthy dispatching delays at OUC, even after they connected with Metro’s ROCC. This brings us to the other part of the story.
While Metro has been extremely kind in crediting STATter911’s reporting with bringing these important safety issues to light, the reception has not been the same at OUC. That was made quite clear in the testimony by one OUC worker, Yolanda Geter:
IAFF Local 36 president Dabney Hudson and I both testified just prior to Ms. Jeter (see below) about continuing OUC problems that jeopardize the safety of the public along with DC’s firefighters, EMTs, medics and police officers. You can watch the entire hearing here (starting at 4:07:15).
As I say in my testimony, no one in charge in DC is acknowledging what I’ve been saying for a very long time–there’s a DC 911 crisis. Nothing in yesterday’s hearing gives me hope that there’s a serious effort to fix these problems.