WASHINGTON — A security threat near the White House early Tuesday morning demanded quick action from the Secret Service and the D.C. police and fire departments, but a 911 dispatcher sent the fire crew to the wrong address.
Uniformed officers of the Secret Service found a man with a loaded gun in his vehicle at Madison Place and H Street Northwest. He was promptly arrested and faces several charges, including carrying a pistol without a license. A D.C. police bomb disposal team was called to the scene to check the car for explosives, and D.C. Fire and Emergency Services were also summoned to the scene.
But Statter911, a blog on fire and EMS activities worldwide, reports that the operator at D.C.’s 911 call center, the Office of Unified Communications, sent the fire crews to the wrong address.
“In Northwest Washington, there’s a Madison Place, which is by Lafayette Park; Madison Drive, on the Mall, and Madison Street, off Missouri Avenue,” said Dave Statter. “When the U.S. Secret Service needed help with a suspicious vehicle … near Lafayette Park … DC Fire and Rescue Units were sent to 8th and Madison streets in Northwest Washington — five miles from the White House area.”
Statter, a former D.C.-based broadcast journalist and former dispatcher for the Prince George’s County Fire Department, says the 911 operator should have considered the context of the call, which came in from the U.S. Secret Service, which would be more likely to need an emergency response on Madison Place near the White House than it would on Madison Street Northwest — a residential neighborhood.
The 911 operator corrected her mistake about five minutes later, rerouting the fire teams to the suspicious vehicle near the White House.
“Well, five minutes, when you really need help, is a long time,” said Statter. “I think that mistake should have been recognized pretty quickly,” he said.
The charges against the man with the gun near the White House include possession of an unregistered firearm and possession of unregistered ammunition.
Statter has long been critical of management and training at the Office of Unified Communications, charging that the 911 center is sometimes too slow in dispatching emergency responders.
Alan Etter, a spokesman for the Office of Unified Communications, said the agency is aware of the incident and it is looking into exactly what happened.
“The critical work done by OUC 911 operators leaves no margin for error,” said OUC Director Karima Holmes in an email. “OUC works with all our public safety partners to minimize the risk of this kind of miscommunication. On the few occasions where it happens, OUC takes immediate action to ensure first responders are dispatched to the correct location with accurate information on what caused the emergency.”
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