Sherwood's Notebook: Sending 911 for 911!

If you’ve ever milled around a gasoline station while your tank is filled, you’ve probably spotted a big red button near all the gas pumps.

In case of emergency, that button shuts off the gasoline to any and all tanks to limit damage.

We learned this week there is a button or switch like that in the bottom of the building in Southeast that houses the District’s Office of Unified Communications (known as the OUC).

Just before midnight on Saturday, according to District officials, an engineer inspecting a water leak hit the button or switch, killing the power to the entire operation of the OUC for nearly 90 minutes. Even when the power was restored, it took a while to get all the 911 and 311 equipment back up and running. It wasn’t until Monday morning that the reason for the shut-off was even clear.

The cutoff valve is in a secure room, but the engineer had access to it.

“When you come into the server room, there’s a lot of power coming in there,” said Chris Geldart, director of homeland security for the District. “A lot of sensitive equipment, a lot of danger for firefighters. So the [cutoff] box is there on purpose so that the firefighters have one place to go to shut down all of that power.”

Geldart, who won praise for the city’s snow response this past winter, said there were warning signs and protocols that maybe weren’t given enough attention. He said the city already has cut down the limited number of people who have access to that room and “instructions are where they need to be.”


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As of our deadline, there were no reports of extremely serious calls that were missed as the system moved to an off-site backup. Geldart and Karima Holmes, director of the call center itself, said other safeguards are being put into place.

“This [event] caused our entire center to go down,” Holmes told us. “We want to make sure that button is pushed only when it’s needed to be pushed.”

■ Trump 911? Your Notebook mostly sticks to local politics in the District and occasionally Maryland and Virginia. But we are fascinated by the twists and turns of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

As of this writing, Trump was to give a clarifying speech Wednesday in Arizona on his now-muddled immigration plans. He began his campaign by promising to deport 11 million undocumented people, saying they could come back only by applying legally.

This past weekend, Trump said he’d go after criminals among the immigrants first. He was far less clear about what happens to the others.

Your Notebook is borrowing a line from Trump and reminds everyone that Trump had said he could “shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue” and his supporters would not desert him. Well, we say that Trump has “shot” his hard-line immigration stand. What will his hard-line supporters do now?

■ A final word. It’s a truth that news directors at television stations often come and go. Some make new policies, some just fill the slot and some are never forgotten, for good and bad reasons.

And then there was Robert (Bob) Long. He died this week at George Washington University Hospital after a prolonged illness. Long was our news director at NBC4 from 1999 until 2003. Veteran anchor Jim Vance wrote the staff a note about our former news director and friend to Vance and many others even after he left. We’ll let Vance’s note to the staff wrap things up:

“One day a while ago, a guy who used to work here chose to celebrate yet another winning/dominant May [ratings book] in a note to the staff with the life cycle of the mayfly as metaphor. It was sparkling prose, ending, as did all the former and later such notes, with an invitation to Chadwicks, or Clydes or Matisse or wherever, to raise a drink to our success as our competition ‘drowned in their own hot tears of despair’.

“On another occasion, he likened our victory to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in his campaign against the Romans.

“Who writes stuff like that at the end of a book!? For those of us fortunate to have worked for him, the answer is, of course, Bob Long. There is no one who knew him, who doesn’t have a Bob Long story to tell. For his part, Bob had a thousand of his own, which he was happy to share with anyone who would listen. And who wouldn’t listen? The stories were fantastic, so much so that [former NBC4 weatherman] Bob Ryan and others are still trying to figure out which might be true.

“Such pondering is now moot. After a long and valiant struggle, Bob lay down his sword [Monday]. But if there’s anybody whose spirit will never die, it surely is his.”

Now that was Vance’s note. Vance ended his tribute with a call to raise a glass to Long on Monday night at Matisse. As Vance said, “We’re going to raise a drink or three in celebration of a life well lived. And, in gratitude that at some point, we were blessed to share the same space, breathe the same air, laugh, cuss, and maybe even tell a lie or two (maybe not) with Bob Long.”

And in case you missed it, your Notebook will add this: Long was a hell of a journalist.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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