D.C. 911 Director Says He's Working for Improvements

The interim director of D.C.’s 911 call center says he has worked hard to change a culture there that could complicate responses to emergencies.

Chris Geldart, who is also the head of D.C. Homeland Security, said it could take as long as five minutes before an ambulance is dispatched when someone calls for help on high-volume days, as opposed to the two-and-a-half-minute average.

Those five-minute dispatch times are typically for low-priority calls, Geldart said, but he added the pressure on the 911 call center is growing because of how many calls it’s getting.

Before Geldart took over at the call center after the previous director was fired, employees were afraid they would be suspended if they did not follow the strict protocols of asking 15 to 20 questions before dispatching an ambulance, Geldart said.

That has changed, Geldart said. Medic units can be dispatched after just four questions, and there is no more fear of discipline.

He also pointed to failures in the tablets that tell the dispatchers where units are. When ambulances were parked inside firehouses, that technology didn’t always work.

“We found out we had about a 7.5 percent failure rate on identifying units when they’re in their quarters,” he said.

But that issue was resolved. The failure rate was down to zero by the end of March.

Geldart also said he’s hired 24 new call takers and dispatchers, who are helping to relive the pressure. But he said he’ll need more staff to keep up with the increasing number of emergency calls.

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