DC 911 doesn't meet national standards, according to report

A D.C. auditor report finds the District’s 911 call center is in serious need of reforms in order to ensure public safety. 

The 94-page audit is said to be the first of its kind, noting issues many community members, public safety advocates and neighborhood leaders have been flagging for years.

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"We believe the recommendations, once implemented, will successfully address the issues documented by Federal Engineering," D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson said in a statement provided to FOX 5. "While identifying a series of shortcomings, our experts also found that significant reforms are underway at the agency today and that current OUC leadership has pledged to implement most if not all of the report’s recommendations."  

With these reports, there is data shared, but you don’t get to always see the real impact of what’s being examined and why. FOX 5 spoke to a Prince William County family about this on Tuesday.

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"It’s not like it’s far from the river. It’s – we’re on Potomac. Everything is – it’s quarter-mile stretch both ways. There’s houses there. If someone drowns you would think the response team would be there in five or 10 minutes, but these guys went the complete opposite way. Everything - everything - was done wrong," said Jimmy Noory, the brother of Ahmed "Johnny" Noory.

Johnny Noory was one of three men killed in a boating incident on the Potomac in August 2020. The family told FOX 5 that Noory served with the Army in Afghanistan and was well-trained in handling himself in emergency situations.

It had been reported that on August 2, 2020, a fireboat captain called into fire dispatch after receiving a distress call from Joint Base Anacostia Bolling in Southwest D.C. The call was about a boat collision and people in the water in the Potomac.

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OUC sent additional resources to the wrong place. It took 15 minutes for a Fire & EMS boat to locate the scene.

The dispatch error to that boating scene was one of the issues highlighted in the new 94-page audit, which finds that D.C.’s 911 call center, which is operated by the Office of Unified Communications, does not meet national standards.

A press release provide by the D.C. Auditor notes:

- The average time for OUC to answer a 911 call is 5.2 seconds

- The average talk time for a 911 call is 111.2 seconds

- The average time to process a 911 call from call answer to queue ready for dispatch:

Police – 1 minute, 40 seconds

EMS – 1 minute, 23 seconds 

Fire – 1 minute, 15 seconds

In a virtual news conference held after the report’s release, reporters were told in one area, DC is noticeably low, hitting at around the 20th percentile when it comes to meeting a standard of 60 seconds from call answer to dispatch.

The D.C. auditor also found inadequate supervision and inconsistent use of location determining technology. It was noted that Uber can find someone -- but in some cases, 911 cannot.

Others viewing the audit and recommendations feel dispatchers should have better training and knowledge of the city’s quadrant make-up.

"The whole thing was done wrong. Honestly, the whole thing was done wrong. And it breaks my heart that – that they even know it was done wrong, but what can I do about it? Am I supposed to sue the city of DC? How’s that going to work? I lost my brother. Nothing I can do is going to bring my brother and two best friends back," said Jimmy Noory on Tuesday, recounting his brother’s incident as his mother sobbed to herself while sitting on the other side of the family’s Prince William County living room.

Dave Statter is a public safety advocate who flagged dispatch error in Noory’s incident. Statter has flagged several 911 caller mistakes along the years, calling for greater accountability.  

"For the first time in years, there’s an official saying that D.C. 911 needs to be fixed. It’s been a long-time coming. Glad it’s here," he said of the audit, and also noted he is aware of improvements actively being worked on through sources connected to the Office of Unified Communications.

An emailed statement from OUC Interim Director Cleo Subido read:

The Office of Unified Communications (OUC) has taken, and continues to take, positive measures to improve service delivery to our residents. As noted in the recently-released audit report, we have made significant strides in call-taking metrics, maintaining a culture of accountability and excellence, supporting our staff’s mental health, and building collaborative relationships with partner agencies.  

While we are pleased with our progress, we recognize that there is more work to be done. We are firmly committed to continuing to improve our critical 911 service provision. Through significant investments in FY22 the OUC will continue recruitment efforts to ensure a full complement of call takers, enhance staff training to further improve the accuracy of address locations, launch a Supervisors Development Initiative aimed at developing our supervisors' skills to foster a supportive and fair working environment which is committed to operational excellence, and help our team at all levels to provide quality dispatch services to residents across all eight wards.  

OUC is, and always will, remain committed to answering the call in times of crisis for those that live, work, or visit the District of Columbia.