Mayor Bowser names new leader of heavily criticized DC 911

Calling her “a person who knows 911 from the inside and out,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Friday that she nominated Heather McGaffin for the position of director at the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), the agency that operates the District’s heavily criticized 911 call center.

McGaffin, who currently works in the OUC in the position of deputy director, said her experience in public safety has been 20 years in the making.

“I was 22 years old when I took my first 911 call,” McGaffin said. “I remember that call and I remember the thousands after that call.”

McGaffin said she began her career at 16, when she became a volunteer EMT with her local fire department and rescue squad.

In 2005, she joined the Calvert Control Center in Calvert County, Maryland, and worked through the ranks as a dispatcher, shift supervisor, trainer, manager and deputy director.

From 2015 to 2020, McGaffin served as a consultant for a national public safety firm before joining the OUC in October 2020.

“I have had the ability to work in multiple centers across this nation,” she said.

McGaffin has a lot of work ahead of her, as the OUC has often come under fire for delays in sending out ambulances as well as mistakes such as sending emergency crews out to incorrect locations.

In September, the D.C. auditor said the OUC was “failing to meet the needs of District residents” when it came to emergency response.

That comment came nearly a year after a scathing report found the 911 center struggled to dispatch emergency crews to the correct locations and was failing to meet national standards.

“We have work to do,” McGaffin said. “We are going to be strong in the work that we do and remain transparent and accountable.”

She must eventually be confirmed by the D.C. Council in order to officially become director of the OUC. Until then, her title will be “acting director.”

Bowser’s previous nominee for director, Karima Holmes, took herself out of the running after facing opposition from council members.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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