Audit of DC 911 set to begin amid search for new director

One week following the departure after five years of the leader of D.C.’s 911 system, the agency has been notified that a thorough audit will begin Feb. 15.

Cleo Subido last week was named interim director of the Office of Unified Communications to succeed Karima Holmes, who in December announced she would be leaving the agency.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson said in a letter to Subido that the wide-ranging investigation is expected to last seven months.

Under Holmes, DC’s 911 center — which handles more than a million calls per year — has faced criticism over instances in which incorrect or nonexistent addresses were initially transmitted to D.C. Fire and EMS crews.

In a September 2020 interview, Holmes told WTOP that “there is not a systematic problem with DC 911.”

“There are times when we do make a mistake. There are times when the caller provides us a wrong address, and there are times when we give an address correctly and the responders interpret that address incorrectly,” Holmes said in September.

The Office of the D.C. Auditor hired the consulting firm Federal Engineering, based in Fairfax, Virginia, to conduct the audit. The company will be paid $248,232 to conduct the investigation and produce a final written report that will be released publicly by the auditor’s office.

“Our audits and evaluations provide valuable insight regarding whether an agency’s business practices are efficient, its policies and procedures are effective, its internal controls need to be improved, and its programs are delivering the intended results,” according to the introductory letter sent to OUC.

The letter also said, “The audit will include interview with staff members and other stakeholders, and a review and analysis of applicable laws, rules, and regulations, policies and procedures, budget and expenditure reports, and program data and reports.”

In September, in announcing it would conduct an audit, Patterson’s office said: “Recent events call into question the effectiveness of OUC’s 911 Operations Division.”

In explaining the need for the audit in September, the office said: “The NTSB recommended that the Office of Unified Communications audit its ‘average length of time that call takers use to process an emergency call and dispatch emergency service, and compare those results’” with the results of other similar agencies.

“To date, no such audit has occurred.”

In Monday’s introductory letter to Subido, Patterson said the audit will cover calendar years 2019 and 2020. The preliminary objectives will be:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of OUC’s 911 Operations Division against national standards;
  • Review a sample of 911 call recording and data;
  • Evaluate OUC culture and training;
  • Review OUC’s technological capabilities; and review OUC’s internal investigations of past incidents.

The audit begins as the District conducts a nationwide search for a new director. In announcing Holmes would be departing, Mayor Muriel Bowser lauded Holmes’ performance, and said the DC 911 system had improved under Holmes’ direction.

WTOP has contacted the Office of Unified Communications and will update this report with any comment we receive.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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