WASHINGTON - A 911 system meltdown in the District left callers unable to reach the emergency dispatch center for over an hour and a half over the weekend. FOX 5 has also learned some police and fire dispatch radios went down as well leaving those officers and first responders on the streets cut off from communication.
While D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency said that didn't happen, audio obtained by FOX 5 of the radio transmissions between dispatch and police are telling a different story.
At about 20 minutes before the Office of Unified Communications said the 911 outage began, at around 11:15 p.m. Saturday, officers, medics and firefighters started calling for radio checks, but were not hearing back from dispatch.
It is not until 11:49 p.m. that we start hearing the panic behind the scenes of the city's emergency response. Here is a transcript of what is being heard on the Metropolitan Police Department’s dispatch at that time:
“Be advised the dispatch is on the landline. Everything is shut down. The CAD (computer-aided dispatch) is shutdown citywide. Nothing is working. The radio just come on. The phones are out. We got people going to TSEC. Everything is blacked out up here at TSEC communications.”
“Copy, go ahead and give a roll call for officer safety then,” said another dispatcher.
“Okay, for a B-line channel, we have all officers give a roll call. All officers come over the air with your call signs. I’m going to start marking units down. I need one unit at a time.”
The following radio traffic was heard on D.C. Fire and EMS’s dispatch at around 11:50 p.m.:
“Whoever is calling communications, the system is down.”
“I understand. I’m trying to put Medic 27 back in service. So you want to stay out of service?”
“Do it by landline, Larry.”
“I can’t. The phones are out too up there. I tried calling them by phone.”
“Computers are down. Radios just came back up. We’re making a move up to McMillan. At this time, phones are down. 1-2-3-4-5. 5-4-3-2-1.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was unaware of the time period 11:35 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. Sunday of any serious emergency happening. But we have learned of several incidents, which included a domestic violence assault that turned into a barricade happening at around 12:30 a.m. in Southeast D.C.
Neighbors tried calling 911 unsuccessfully and were unaware an outage had occurred. They said the victim was in and out of consciousness after being hit in the head several times with a hammer.
Here is the call from first responders back to dispatch at 1:15 a.m., nearly 45 minutes after the initial call for help for this incident:
“We’re on the assault at Lebaum Street. Do we have an incident number for this incident?”
Officially, D.C. officials said it took an hour and 40 minutes for the 911 system to be restored. It was caused by a maintenance contractor who mistakenly hit the emergency shutoff switch.
The Office of Unified Communications confirmed this is the first time in the agency's history that human error shut down all communications at both at headquarters and their backup facility.