Exclusive: DC 911 director’s blunt email highlights critical staffing & performance problems

With only 50 percent of employees available to work, Cleo Subido orders mandatory overtime

Cleo Subido from OUC website

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Only half of the people employed at DC 911 are available to work on any given day. This has left the emergency call center unable to meet its minimum staffing requirements. The situation is so dire that Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Interim Director Cleo Subido has just instituted mandatory overtime and reassigned training staff to work the 911 center. The 911 center was notified of the changes in an email Friday from Subido.

The email, obtained by STATter911, bluntly describes critical staffing and workplace issues. Subido, told her staff in the email:

We are committed to following the rules and being transparent about it. Anything that gets in the way of us improving performance, treating each other with respect, providing our responders and constituents with the care they deserve, or meeting the objectives of our mission – I will handle without delay.

The email also questions how much work OUC is getting out of some of the center’s dispatchers when they are on duty. Subido told her staff the amount of time dispatchers are wearing headsets and on the radio needs to increase. At one point she wrote, “currently, the District is paying us for 12 hours and we are plugged into the radio for less than seven hours for the most part.”

When asked about her email Subido told STATter911, “We can’t risk the safety of responders, the public or visitors to the District of Columbia who are counting on us to have enough people to do our jobs correctly. This is the only way I know to make sure that I can address that issue.”

Subido has been running the agency since the departure of Karima Holmes in January. She was hired in 2019 to lead OUC’s Office of Professional Standards and Development. Subido has spent 32 years working in the 911 field, mostly in Washington State.

Since Subido’s arrival, OUC has become much more transparent and willing to discuss systemic problems long plaguing 911. Subido’s candor was very apparent at her first oversight hearing in front of the DC Council in March.

This email outlines many of the challenges Subido faces in her efforts to improve OUC. 911 in DC has long struggled with promptly and accurately dispatching fire, EMS and police to emergencies. Subido has been implementing changes in an attempt to better serve the public and, at the same time, trying to make sure dispatchers are effectively responding to the firefighters, EMTS, paramedics and police officers they work with. STATter911 has heard from numerous people within the upper ranks of both the DC Fire & EMS Department and the Metropolitan Police Department praising Subido’s efforts to improve the relationship between the agencies and solve chronic dispatching problems. So far, Mayor Muriel Bowser has not submitted Subido’s name to the Council for confirmation as permanent director.

The email covers so many topics crucial to the troubled 911 center’s performance that STATter911 will share excerpts from the email in multiple posts. We’ll start by focusing on the staffing problems.

‘No 911 center operates under minimum staffing’

First and foremost, because we have so many folks using leave all the time we will begin mandatory OT on days off for every employee immediately as needed. I expect the OPS managers and Watch commanders to give out mandatory OT on your work days so that you will know when to come in on your days off. This is mandatory, so if you don’t come in, you will be written up. We have minimum numbers each and every day – and I expect the AWC (assistant watch commander) and WC’s (watch commander) to meet those numbers no matter what. That’s a deal breaker. If we are not at minimums on any shift the AWC and WC will be written up. This is where we are at …… I can’t get much more clear. No 911 center operates under minimum staffing, that’s why they call it minimums.

Leave restrictions will be lifted ‘if folks start coming to work’

This is notice that all leave that is not already scheduled is restricted through September 30th, 2021 except for 311 and IT. I will remove this restriction if folks start coming to work. This is not done lightly, but we run an emergency agency here and I cannot tolerate being short and risking the safety of the public and responders. Period. I have never had to do this in any agency because I have never seen more than 5% of staff out on so much leave – but it’s necessary here because we have 50% of our staff on FMLA, PFL, SL, AL etc. at any given time. I want you to know I am working with HR and Legal to determine ways to enforce leave rules that will help solve this problem. This is your official notice that there is a leave restriction effective immediately.

Training staff reassigned to 911 center

Another thing to help the situation we’re in with folks not coming to work – I have moved OPSD (Office of Professional Standards and Development) to the operations floor – some have chosen to take a permanent move back and assume their previous positions etc. others have selected just a detail in the hopes that they will be able to return to what was OPSD after the restructuring of the agency training, QI and standards departments.

In the next post we’ll share other serious workplace concerns from Cleo Subido’s email, including OUC being the DC agency with the lowest percentage of Covid-19 vaccinated workers.

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