DC 911 interim head orders mandatory overtime to halt staffing shortages

The interim director of D.C.’s 911 system has ordered mandatory overtime amid concerns that not enough call-takers are on-hand to deal with emergency calls.

“They don’t have enough people,” said safety advocate Dave Statter, paraphrasing a staff email sent Friday by Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Interim Director Cleo Subido.

“At any given time, she says only half the workers that are employed by DC 911 are available to work,” said Statter.

In his STATter911 blog, Statter said Subido told him: “We can’t risk the safety of responders, the public or visitors to the District of Columbia who are counting on us to have enough people to do our jobs correctly. This is the only way I know to make sure that I can address that issue.”

In her email to staff, Subido said with employees taking family leave, personal leave, annual leave and sick leave, she doesn’t have enough employees at her disposal.

“I want you to know I am working with HR and Legal to determine ways to enforce leave rules that will help solve this problem,” she wrote.

Previously, Statter has said he is impressed with Subido’s candor and dedication to fixing problems in the Office of Unified Communications.

“And now she’s let the staff know very clearly what she expects from them, and I’m sure some people are not happy,” Statter said. “But there are also people who are working there that know the environment is a problem, and they want change, too.”

In addition, Subido’s email was critical of the amount of work she’s getting out of dispatchers: “They’re working a 12-hour shift, and by her statistics, they’re only plugged in about six-and-a-half hours during the shift.”

Statter said Subido expects the call-takers to be plugged-in for most of their shift, excluding authorized breaks.

“This is going to be difficult for her to change,” said Statter. “She has to change the culture of the organization.”

Starting next month, OUC plans to hire ten new call-takers, which should lessen the impact during “high-absence periods,” Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart said in a statement to WTOP.

Along with additional recruitment in the fall, the agency will add mandatory overtime and focus on their “base operational requirements” including plug in times and call accuracies to improve overall response time.

“OUC remains committed to answering the call in times of crisis and we will continue to work with 911 operations staff and supervisors to ensure they are well-trained and ready to assist,” Geldart said.

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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