Is DC’s Mayor about to bring back the former 911 director to run the agency?

Multiple DC government sources say they expect Mayor Muriel Bowser to announce shortly that Karima Holmes is coming back to run the troubled DC 911 center

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Is the person who ran DC 911 for five tumultuous years about to be brought back to lead the troubled agency? Multiple DC government sources claim the answer to that question is “Yes”. The sources tell STATter911, Mayor Muriel Bowser is poised to reappoint Karima Holmes as director of the DC Office of Unified Communications. While notification of the mayor’s plan has been made to various DC officials, no official announcement has been made. It’s important to recognize these things can change prior to a public announcement. A request for comment from Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart has gone unanswered. Geldart’s office has previously declined mulitple requests to talk about the overdue appointment of a new OUC director.

Holmes announced in December 2020 that she was leaving OUC. She then become a senior director at ShotSpotter, Inc. Holmes left at the same time the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor announced its plans to review DC 911 operations. The audit was released last October and focused on numerous issues during the time Holmes ran the agency.

The announcement of her departure came a few weeks after audio was released of a call where 911 sent DC Fire & EMS to the wrong location as a 13-year-old girl performed CPR on her dying mother. That incident on Oglethorpe Steet NE occurred on June 5, 2020, three weeks after a less publicized incident where a 911 call-taker made multiple mistakes during a call after a woman gave birth in her Upper Northwest apartment. During that call DC Fire & EMS was also sent to the wrong address and STATter911 later learned the call-taker provided instructions that may have played a role in the newborn’s death.

Despite these tragic incidents and systemic problems causing 911 to regularly delay emergency responses, dispatch fire and EMS to wrong locations, and even abandoning emergency radio channels, Bowser has been a big Holmes supporter. The mayor told reporters asking questions about OUC problems that DC was lucky to have a leader like Karima Holmes. Besides the mayor, Holmes has many supporters within OUC. She has also been active in 911 related organizations and during her time at OUC was appointed by the Trump administration to FirstNet’s Board of Directors.

Bowser has not provided similar public support for the agency’s interim director, Cleo Subido. Over the last year, Subido has been busy reforming the agency. Despite having only interim status, Subido fired, demoted, and reorganized upper and middle management at OUC. Many of the people impacted were put in those positions by Holmes. These changes have made Subido unpopular with some of the OUC staff. In a recent interview with STATter911, Subido said accountability was key in her efforts to remake DC 911 and 311.

Subido has also worked to improve the relationship between OUC and its two key clients, the fire and police departments. Last year, sources in both agencies described candid communications and a working relationship that didn’t exist previously with OUC. They say Subido has been attempting to solve long-standing call-taking and dispatch problems that impact fire, EMS, and police.

Subido also brought transparency and openness to the agency in stark contrast to her predecessor. In her first DC Council hearing last year, Subido finally provided clear answers and solutions to a continuing problem where fire and EMS dispatchers abandoned emergency radio channels for many minutes at a time. It happened at least 17 times, but over a 10-month period Karima Holmes refused to publicly explain or acknowledge the continuing problem.

Holmes also didn’t let the family, or the public know for five months that the 13-year-old girl trying to save her mother wasn’t at fault for DC Fire & EMS going to the wrong address during that Oglethrope Street NE call. OUC knew the same day Sheila Shepperd died that her daughter gave 911 the correct address but that a call-taker entered the wrong quadrant of the city into a dispatch computer.

During a 2019 hearing about a controversial and deadly fire on Kennedy Street NW DC Council members struggled to comprehend justification by Holmes for a four-minute delay dispatching fire and EMS. In the weeks prior to the hearing, Holmes and her staff gave answers to reporters about the delay that just didn’t make sense. The Bowser administration ordered an investigation into all city agencies involved in the Kennedy Street fire except OUC.

During her time as agency head, Holmes failed to follow a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation after the 2015 deadly fire in a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station. Due to confusion and an almost six-minute delay correctly dispatching DC Fire and EMS NTSB called for an “‘independent outside audit’ of the average time it takes employees to process and dispatch calls compared to national averages.” Reporter Sloane Airey wrote about this for The DC Line in 2020:

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.”

Below are more stories about OUC while Karima Holmes ran the agency:

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