It took 14 minutes and four 911 dispatches directing emergency crews to different locations to find an injured pedestrian who was lying in the middle of a highway running through the nation’s capital on Monday.
The Interstate 66 Potomac Freeway runs behind the Kennedy Center and between the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and 27th Street Northwest. Thousands of commuters use it daily, but few know the name.
“It’s a confusing area, to say the least,” said safety advocate Dave Statter, of Statter911. The former reporter has been a longtime observer, and a frequent critic, of the District of Columbia’s Office of Unified Communications, which operates the D.C. 911 system.
“The public, when they’re in that area, often don’t know where they are,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that 911 know the road systems intimately, particularly the interstate highways, so they can help the public.”
“We don’t have good signage in the highway system in the District of Columbia,” said Statter. “The Southwest-Southeast Freeway, I-95, DC 295, and what happened yesterday.”
In an area with overpasses, tunnels and surface streets, dispatchers sent crews to New Hampshire Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, Virginia Avenue and eventually the correct location.
WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine said on Monday, “We received our first call at 3:22 p.m. Through routine questioning, we deduced the correct location was I-66/Potomac Freeway between the E Street Expressway and 27th Street Northwest by 3:25 p.m. Knowing the geography and ways these roads are misidentified helps to pinpoint incidents quicker.”
“We can’t expect every 911 call-taker to know every road in the District,” Statter said, “but the interstate highways are where frequent calls occur, and you need to know every exit; you need to know the landmarks. It’s part of the training you should go through, before you answer calls for 911.”
The man who was injured was taken to the hospital in critical but stable condition.
WTOP asked the Office of Unified Communications for comment Tuesday morning, and will update this report when one is provided.