Washington, D.C., will open a new 911 command center next Tuesday in hopes of improving its response to emergencies, attacks, and disasters, reports USA Today. In a national catastrophe, the $116 million center will connect local officials with surrounding states and the federal government. Day to day, it will be the place where life-and-death decisions are made when anyone in the city needs help, including more than 550,000 residents and 2 million commuters and tourists.
City officials have been criticized in highly publicized cases in which deaths have been blamed on the failure of emergency workers to respond in a timely and competent manner. The city’s struggles have been watched by other major metropolitan areas trying to improve their emergency performance. A city investigation in 2003 found that it was not uncommon for 911 calls to go unanswered. About 40 percent of callers would simply give up. Mike Latessa, who became director of the 911 call center in January 2004, said that, “Mediocre performance was considered outstanding. We had to erase 20 to 30 years of bad habits.” In the new center, a quality-assurance team will hunt for failures in emergency calls. Supervisors on the vast “command floor” of the 138,000-square-foot center will listen in on calls in progress to make sure emergencies are handled properly.