DC 911 interim director details errors, pledges improvements

The interim director of D.C.’s Office of Unified Communications, which operates the District’s 911 call center, has told a D.C. Council oversight  committee she considers some dispatcher behaviors “deal breakers” and “unacceptable,” and is taking steps to improve performance.

On Thursday, Interim Director Cleo Subido addressed questions from the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety. Subido detailed conditions and 911 employee actions that have resulted in D.C. Fire and EMS emergency calls for help going unanswered for many minutes.

“We had an incident just days ago, where we did not respond to [first] responders’ requests on the radio,” Subido said, referring to a recent fire on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park.

“For me, and I have communicated that to staff, that is a deal-breaker for me,” Subido said. “It is not acceptable.”

Public safety advocate Dave Statter, a longtime observer and frequent critic of the Office of Unified Communications in his Statter911 blog — who also testified before the panel — was impressed by Subido’s responses.

“It was refreshing,” Statter said, saying her forthright answers and acknowledgement of existing problems within the agency were in stark contrast to previous leadership, including recently departed director Karima Holmes.

OUC is currently under an audit from D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson.

Statter said Subido made her position clear: “We’ve had problems. For a variety of reasons, our dispatchers were not answering the radio. It’s on them, and she made it clear this is no longer acceptable.”

On the issue of blown addresses, in which emergency crews were dispatched to incorrect locations, Subido said while frantic callers often provide inaccurate addresses to 911, 40% of errant dispatches are due to a call-taker mistake, and failing to pick up on clues that might have precluded sending crews to the wrong place.

“We may have been able to use some tools that helped us understand immediately that that was the wrong address,” Subido said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is in the midst of a nationwide search for the director.

Statter said he likes what he is hearing from Subido, saying, “We’ve never heard this candor from a DC911 director. She seems to know her stuff of what’s going on inside the agency and has identified some problems that need to be fixed right away.”

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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