OPINION: DC 9-1-1 - This ain't gonna' be your day.


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OPINION: DC 9-1-1 - This ain't gonna' be your day.

Submitted by Bill Degnan on Sat, 01/25/2020 - 06:27

DC's 9-1-1 center is part of the Office Unified Communications (OUC). But, I sit here thinking how it should be reacronymed to OUCH. Residents, visitors and people who work in our nation's Capitol call them on the worst days of their lives. 

To understand the story, you have to read Dave Statter's article (linked below) and watch the videos that are referenced there. He's been doing the heavy lifting on this story for some time now. And, he proposes a comprehensive external audit to help find the way forward.


If the testimony of the leader and the led is a fair insight into the attitudes of the people that work there, the underlying message is, "This ain't gonna' be your day."

To be clear, I don't  don't think they say this when they answer the phone. But, I do think it is expressed in other ways.

"What we have here is failure to communicate" -- Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke

When I listen to the testimony of the DC OUC Director and of her supporter, I fail to see any concern for the people they are paid to serve. Those stakeholders are the public, with requests for services and the agencies and their people for whom OUC takes the calls.

I fail to see any sense of urgency in the speed and accuracy of the process or any consideration for the health and safety of the public or the responders.

You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that? -- -- Voight-Kampff test, Blade Runner

Some amount of empathy should be required to hold a job in a 9-1-1 call center. And, for your own mental health, a measure of professional distance is required. You can't internalize every call but neither should you consider callers and their emergencies as raw materials you turn into a paycheck.

I see no passion for continuous improvement. No desire for quality of service. Indeed, I see no understanding that these things might be able to be influenced in any meaningful way. Oh, well.

Deflecting objective criticism of performance and attitude by playing "the race card" shows a lack of openness to learning and shows participation in "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

I've spent shifts, jacked-in with call takers and dispatchers (definitely not in DC) and there's a sharp contrast with the people I worked with.

If you put a gun to their head, could they do the job correctly? If it's "no", your problem is training. If it is "yes" it is a lack of motivation." -- Military leadership principle

When 9-1-1 screws up, real people can and have died. You can't just wave that off because you know there are plenty of other callers to take their place. Because I like to think there are future call-takers and dispatchers who would like to help make the world a better place.

I'll bet that some of those people are already employed at OUC.

Are stakeholders trying to tell OUC the problem, but they're not listening? Have they given up trying to tell them?

I don't know any of these people. I've been reading Dave Statter for years and find we share a dislike for incompetence. Ignorance is temporary. It can be replaced with knowledge. But, what then?

This is a crisis of leadership. Do the leaders have the knowledge? Do they have the motivation? Not that they are displaying.

OUC's leadership -- and those with oversight responsibility should make it clear that empathy, organized haste and contuous improvements are the order of the day. 

A delegation of stakeholder agency representatives should rotate through OUC to mentor, identify opportunities for improvement and to facilitate communications between OUC and the agencies.

Dispatchers and call-takers should get ride-alongs, even if it is just a couple of them who report back to their co-workers about the experience. I picture them yelling back at the radio speaker while in the field.

Those wanting to learn and perform should be given the tools. Those who are unwilling should be given the door.

Is that how you see it? Comment below.

Sorry. Wrong Number— STATter911 reporting leads Metro to find unusual DC 911 problem ↗️