‘Bring the experts in’: DC neighborhood leaders seek task force for ‘chronic, systemic’ 911 problems

Some of the windows at District Dogs are boarded up after storms on Aug. 14, 2023 led to dangerous flooding.(WTOP/Luke Lukert)

A D.C. neighborhood commissioner, whose dog was one of 10 who died in the District Dogs flooding last month, is one of 118 current and former ANC leaders calling on Mayor Muriel Bower to make major changes in how the city handles 911 calls.

The leaders sent a letter to Bowser on Tuesday.

“This is serious. This is life and death,” ANC Commissioner Colleen Costello, of Northeast D.C., told WTOP. Costello’s shepherd mix, Maple, died in the flooding.

The delay in alerting first responders to the flooding at the pet day care on Aug.14 was the result of a miscommunication about the situation’s severity between D.C.’s 911 call center, operated by the Office of Unified Communications, and the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.

Among the recommendations outlined in the letter is to launch an independent task force “charged with examining chronic and systemic problems at OUC and issuing recommendations to address them.”

OUC, and other agencies in the District, are subject to oversight from the D.C. Council.

“The council has been trying to address this in a piecemeal way,” Costello said. “I think we need to bring the experts in — these problems have gone on for way too long.”

Costello says D.C.’s elected council members should seek the input of industry professionals to identify and fix problems in how the District receives, dispatches, and responds to emergency calls for service.

“People who are experts in how to run a 911 call center, people who are experts in fire and emergency medical services, and police dispatch — those are the people who should be looking at this,” Costello said.

Asked how she felt upon learning that first responders were delayed, when her dog and nine others died, Costello said she thinks it “retraumatized a lot of us, to know that maybe help could have gotten there sooner.”

In addition to the dogs, several people were in the dog-care facility as it flooded, before first responders arrived.

“I can only imagine the fear they must have felt,” she said. “Disappointment is probably an understatement in describing how I feel.”

Costello said she plans to testify at an Oct. 5 oversight hearing before the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, headed by Chairwoman Brooke Pinto.

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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