Report: D.C.’s 911 Center Slowed Response to Metrorail Tunnel Fire

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In late January, a Metro subway train filled with smoke in L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station and more than 80 passengers were sickened and an Alexandria, Virginia woman died after an electrical malfunction sent smoke billowing into a subway tunnel and the nearby L’Enfant Plaza station.

Now, a new study lays blame for the slow response to the tragedy on the 911 center in Washington, DC.

Via AP

A policy of routing calls about emergencies on the Metro subway to a supervisor at the District of Columbia’s 911 call center contributed to delays in getting firefighters to a fatal rail malfunction early this year.

The supervisor who took the calls from Metro about smoke in its tunnels did not have access to the software that 911 call takers use to help them dispatch calls quickly, according to officials at the District’s Office of Unified Communications. The problem was magnified when the same supervisor took back-to-back calls before dispatching the first one, officials there told The Associated Press.

The policy and the supervisor’s actions got firefighters off to a slow start getting to the scene after an electrical malfunction caused a train to fill with smoke inside a tunnel in downtown Washington on Jan. 12. Choking passengers waited 30 minutes for help.

One woman died of respiratory failure, and more than 80 others were sickened by smoke. The sons of the woman who died have sued Metro, arguing that her death was preventable.

Metro has faced scrutiny about its mechanical failures, the behavior of the train operator and its inability to communicate the gravity of the problem to passengers or emergency responders. The role of the communications office, which handles all 911 calls in the city, has received less attention from investigators and elected officials.

Yet a review by the AP of the response to the Metro incident and data provided by the office raises troubling questions about how quickly the center handled the Metro calls — and 911 calls in general.

Read more at this link.

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