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'We have a game plan moving forward' | Acting Director of DC's 911 Center adds more training, supervisors

OUC Acting Director Heather McGaffin launches free Junior Academy for high school students

WASHINGTON — The new Acting Director of DC's 911 call center is making it clear: she wants young people to follow their passions, not a life of crime. Acting Director Heather McGaffin recently announced a first-of-its-kind, free course called "The Junior Academy."

"We want the kids in our community to know that we care about them, and we don't want to be taking the phone calls for them as victims of crime or suspects of crime, we want them to have a safe place to work where they feel really invested in."

It is designed for high school students who want to learn more about careers in public safety communication.

McGaffin is stepping in to lead the Office of Unified Communications in the wake of intense scrutiny. EMT’s dispatched to the wrong addresses, long hold times, and resulting deaths plagued the troubled agency.

Now, just one week on the job McGaffin is answering tough questions about how she is going to fix it.

After several years of problems at DC's 911 center, the former Deputy Director now steps up to lead the agency. Heather McGaffin replaces embattled acting director Karima Holmes who returned to lead OUC. But Mayor Muriel Bowser pulled her nomination after pushback from DC Council. During Holmes’ tenure, ambulances were sent to wrong addresses and people lost their lives waiting.

"I get [the criticism], I was here why didn't these things change but we have a direction we have a game plan moving forward," said Acting Director Heather McGaffin.

According to McGaffin, that game plan involves more training, more accountability and improving what she described as outdated policies.

"We will have increased training and accountability for every single individual from myself all the way down, it has to happen,” explained McGaffin, “We didn't' always have people in place in our training division that really understood standards and best practices.”

McGaffin is increasing training to 14 weeks up from five weeks. On the floor, double the supervisors: at least four for each 12-hour shift. OUC even launched a pilot program for another level of oversight: an emergency management analyst position. McGaffin said with that, OUC has fulfilled 70% of the auditor’s recommendations.

"This is a human driven process there are going to be errors, but we are going to hold people accountable," McGaffin said.

180 people below the ideal number of call takers and dispatchers, the agency currently has 42 open slots. Still, McGaffin said every employee is a trained call-taker, so staff fill-in during peak times.

"There are things they need to be successful, and I want to identify that and move us forward because I believe in equal and equitable 911 for every resident and visitor to this city," she said.

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