DC Council member says her plan would improve 911 response

D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau is introducing a bill that she says would improve 911 response in the District.

Currently, when a D.C. resident calls 911 for help, they get asked if they need police, fire or help for a medical emergency.

Under Nadeau’s “Reliable and Effective 911 Dispatch Amendment Act of 2023,” once someone says they need help for a fire or medical emergency, the call would be diverted to lines staffed by D.C.’s department of fire and emergency services.

The change would accomplish two things, Nadeau said: it would provide callers with a direct connection to fire and EMS personnel “who know how to diagnose a medical situation and how to provide that assistance” and it that would allow 911 calls for police to be answered more efficiently.

The bill is being introduced alongside another measure from council member Christina Henderson.

Henderson’s bill would allow for retired police and fire and EMS staff to be eligible to serve as full or part-time 911 call takers and dispatchers without putting their retirement benefits at risk.

In an interview with WTOP, Nadeau said she hoped the bill would be embraced “as a way to fix a very broken system,” adding, “I feel very confident that this is a good direction to take, it follows some of the guidelines that our D.C. auditor has set out.”

Nadeau was referring to recommendations from the Office of D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson which issued reports in October 2021 and March 2023, detailing concerns over the Office of Unified Communications’ record on meeting national standards for call and dispatch metrics.

WTOP contacted the Office of Unified Communications for a response and was referred to the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.

In a statement, Fire Chief John Donnelly wrote, “I do not support this bill. OUC is a valued partner and their call-takers and dispatchers play an integral role to our agencies’ emergency responses.”

Referring to the office’s director Heather McGaffin, Donnelly wrote that he supports “the innovations that OUC is taking in identifying where changes can be made to improve the system.”

Donnelly added that, “This bill does not advance our collaborative approach” but said he appreciated that elected leaders are working to make the community safer and concluded by writing he is “always happy to participate in those conversations.”

Dave Statter, a former reporter and advocate who blogs on public safety at Statter911.com, told WTOP in an interview that Nadeau’s bill “is a step in the right direction.”

“They’ve had almost 20 years at OUC to get it right — they still get it wrong,” Statter said.

Statter said it came as no surprise to see that Chief Donnelly opposes the bill.

“No one in the Bowser administration is going to support this bill because it goes against the mayor’s wishes,” said Statter, noting Mayor Bowser’s staunch support for the Office of Unified Communications.

Referring to the council, Statter said, “They may not be able to fix 911 during the Bowser administration, but somebody needs to get the framework in place, but this is a start and a real step in the right direction.”

As of Thursday, Nadeau said, Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis George, Ward 5 Council member Zachary Parker, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White and At-Large Council member Robert White had already moved to co-sponsor the bill. Both bills will be formally introduced Friday, after all council members have had a chance to sign on as co-introducers.

WTOP reached out to the mayor’s office for comment.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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