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What’s DC 911 hiding & why is the DC Council helping them hide it?

DC 911 never performed NTSB requested audit after 2015 Metro fire

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My request to the DC Council for an outside, independent investigation of the city’s 911 center turned out to be old news. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) beat me by four years. The NTSB recommended audit was prompted by a delayed dispatch to a deadly 2015 subway fire. You’ve likely never heard of that audit. That’s because the DC government said “no” to the NTSB. And the one person who might be able to turn that “no” into a “yes” doesn’t seem to care.

Reporter Julia Airey wrote about the NTSB investigation for DC Line on Friday. After the fatal 2015 L’Enfant Plaza tunnel fire NTSB told OUC Director Karima Holmes there should be an “‘independent outside audit’ of the average time it takes employees to process and dispatch calls compared to national averages.” That’s because OUC wasted almost six-minutes before dispatching firefighters & EMS to the Metro fire. Here’s what NTSB told Airey last week about the audit that never happened:

The NTSB confirmed on Wednesday that it is still waiting for the audit it requested of OUC after the aforementioned L’Enfant Plaza Metro incident. NTSB’s Safety Recommendations Division chief Jeffrey Marcus said OUC informed the transit safety watchdog in 2016 that it thought that the call center’s new annual audits done internally would suffice.

“As a result, they did not believe that they needed what we recommended, a new auditing, oversight, and review process for OUC call processing, as these processes were well-established,” Marcus told The DC Line. “When we replied we disagreed with their belief that they did not need to create the independent review that we recommended.”

Charles “no position” Allen

My request for an OUC investigation was part of testimony I gave in front of DC Council member Charles Allen on January 23. Allen chairs the committee responsible for OUC oversight. Chairman Allen never responded to or acknowledged my request. But somehow that’s better than the ridiculous response Allen gave about the NTSB recommended audit. On that issue Council member Charles Allen told reporter Julia Airey he has “no position”.

Think about this for a moment. The person who should be holding DC’s 911 center accountable has “no position” about OUC ignoring a key NTSB safety recommendation. Making this worse, Allen’s “no position” comes about a week after I sent his office a list of more than a dozen delayed & incorrect dispatches from OUC. Eight of those botched dispatches were for the very thing that prompted the NTSB investigation–Metrorail emergencies!

Five years after a woman died on Metro and people still aren’t getting prompt emergency help from DC 911. But the oversight guy can’t muster up a position. Pitiful. Charles Allen, let me introduce you to Carol Glover. She died waiting for both Metro and OUC to get their acts together. Doesn’t a safety recommendation born from Ms. Glover’s tragic death deserve more than a “no position” from you?

Family photo of Carol Glover

The hits keep on coming

Since Friday’s DC Line article I’ve found two more suspicious OUC calls. One was yesterday (Sunday) morning when OUC dispatched DC Fire & EMS to a stabbing at 54 D Street Southeast on Capitol Hill. The engine crew on the call soon discovered that they were 54 blocks or 5 miles from the correct location–54th Street and D Street Southeast. The officer in charge of Engine 18 found that error because the correct location was on the screen in front of him. It was written by OUC in the dispatch notes attached to the call. But that’s not all folks.

OUC then tried to send Engine 18 to the correct location even though the address is miles away, adjacent to the DC/PG border. There were plenty of other engines much closer than Engine 18. Make sure you listen to the response from Engine 18’s officer when OUC attempts to make this bad situation worse. This incident shows, once again, OUC has poorly trained employees who don’t know the basic layout and geography of the Nation’s Capital.

Trust but verify–or maybe just verify

The other incident occurred Saturday. DC Fire & EMS was dispatched to a reported house fire at 13th Street and East Capitol Street. About a minute later, OUC informed the battalion chief a second caller provided a more precise location–106 13th Street in Northeast. Apparently knowing OUC’s history, the battalion chief decided not to trust that OUC provided the correct location. After sending most of the assigned units to the Northeast address he sent one engine to 106 13th Street in Southeast (just two blocks away). Guess which location was correct (radio traffic is below).

Is Statter responsible for the mess that is OUC?

The answer to that question can be found on DC’s website and a page called “History of OUC”. It talks about OUC being created because of “widely publicized” problems with DC’s 911 system in the late 1990s, Those problems were highlighted in “a series of news media reports”. Many of those were my stories at WUSA-TV.


But the key takeaway from that history should not be to blame Dave Statter for OUC’s birth. It should be this sentence:

The bottom line: Public confidence in 911 has been seriously eroded to the point that the District was facing nothing short of a public safety crisis.

What crisis, I don’t see no crisis?

911 in the Nation’s Capital is in crisis again but this time no one will admit it. Not OUC’s Director Karima Holmes. Not her bosses, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety & Justice Kevin Donahue. And clearly not the man who should be sounding the alarm and raising hell, Council member Charles ‘no position” Allen.

No one in charge is willing to get to the bottom of years of delayed alarms, confusion, dysfunction and neglect at the DC 911 center. Don’t forget the August fire where two people died and OUC wasted four minutes before dispatching firefighters, even though police officers desperately called for help. Mayor Bowser and Deputy Mayor Donahue ordered an independent investigation of every agency connected to that fire except one–the Office of Unified Communications. Only one council member publicly asked why that was the case and it wasn’t Charles Allen.

You getting the picture? No NTSB ordered audit. No DC Council concern over OUC telling NTSB no. No independent investigation after two deaths. No acknowledgement of the crazy, gadfly ex-reporter’s request for an outside investigation. Now do you know why I ask what is DC 911 hiding and why is the DC Council helping them hide it?

What’s next?

In my January 23 DC Council testimony I gave a blunt assessment of why everyone refuses to consider an outside, independent look at why DC 911 keeps failing. It’s simple. They’re scared of what they’ll find. They fear a real investigation into what’s wrong will show deep-rooted systemic problems. They’re worried it will uncover a lot more errors than I’m finding just by listening to radio traffic.

The DC government think it’s better to put blinders on, deny there’s a crisis and just keep coming up with nonsensical excuses each time OUC makes news. With those marching orders it’s not hard to see the future for OUC and us, the people OUC serves. The combination of a poorly performing 911 center with deficient leadership and oversight is a recipe for more tragedy.

It will be interesting to see just how well Charles Allen’s “no position” ages. It’s a comment I won’t soon forget.

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