While most of us slept early this (Tuesday) morning, the United States Secret Service arrested a man with a loaded gun near the White House grounds. Following standard procedure, USSS called in bomb technicians from the Metropolitan Police Department (DC Police) and units from DC Fire and EMS to help check out the man’s vehicle.
When DC’s Office of Unified Communications (OUC or 911 center) dispatched the call at 2:56:34 a.m. to DC Fire and EMS they sent units to Madison Street and 8th Street, NW. That location is almost five miles from the White House complex. The call was actually for Madison Place and H Street, NW at the edge of Lafayette Park (Vermont Avenue also meets at that intersection). And, for the record, there is also a Madison Drive in Northwest on the Mall. You would think that would be part of a call taker’s basic training.
It took almost five minutes for OUC to fix the problem and send the correct units to the correct location. The second dispatch was at 3:01:03 a.m.
I understand that the number “8” and the letter “H” can be easily confused when spoken. That’s why well trained call takers will ask, when hearing either “8” or “H,” something like, “Are you saying the number 8 or H as in Henry?”
In addition, I imagine that the context of the call – including the staging area that was sent to the mobile display terminals and that it was USSS calling – likely didn’t make sense for a call at Madison Street and 8th Street, NW. In all likelihood that staging area, which has not been shared publicly, was miles away from Madison Street and 8th Street, NW. It’s also likely the responding firefighters spotted this and blew the whistle on the botched dispatch.
OUC confirms the incident is being investigated.
Regular readers of STATter911.com know that I’ve long been a critic of the 911 center in the Nation’s Capital. News reports in recent months give me the indication there are still serious issues at OUC almost three years after the last director was fired.
These same problems at OUC go back decades. Things like call long processing times that exceed national standards, properly classifying EMS responses and sending help to the right location don’t seem to be of great interest to the local news media or the political leaders who should be finding solutions. But those familiar with public safety understand how key a properly trained and properly function 911 center is to the well being of everyone. I will have more to say in the coming days.