City Cast

Why DC’s 911 System Needs Fixing

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on August 24
An ambulance speeding past the FBI building

An ambulance speeding past the FBI building. (Bim/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, D.C.’s 911 call center acknowledged they made a dispatch error that delayed the emergency response to a flooded doggy daycare the week before. The 911 dispatcher told firefighters that the business simply had a water leak, creating a lack of urgency.

The mistake caused an almost 30-minute delay in the emergency response, and 10 dogs drowned. The agency blamed staff shortages, but this is far from the first time the call center has messed up.

The agency has had consistent systemic problems for years. In the last three years alone, they have confirmed over 11 mistakes.

Dave Statter, who has been covering the agency for 40 years, told us, “They make mistakes and don't seem to learn from them. Things like delaying calls, bad addresses, not noticing that a call needs to be dispatched, or not paying attention to what the caller is saying.”

A follow-up audit of D.C.’s 911 system in March found it only implemented seven of the 31 improvements deemed necessary to bring it up to national standards.

Statter says the problems come from a lack of training, poor management, bad pay, and poor standard operating procedures that have been ignored by city leadership. “[911 center workers] aren’t equipped to succeed – from having the right policies and procedures to having the right bosses above them,” said Statter.

Fortunately, Statter says there are things you can do to make sure your calls are heard … and understood.

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