D.C. 911 center employees to be retrained after ABC7 story

After an ABC7 News inquiry, all 911 emergency operation employees in Washington will be retrained after what recently happened to a 28-year-old graduate student.

“I thought police would come right away,” the woman says.

Sunday night, 911 operators hung up on her three times, moments after a masked robber pointed gun at her face in Northeast D.C.

“I thought I am alone on the street and yes, I can go home, but what if he follows me?”

The woman frantically called 911 from her cell phone again and again. The Office of Unified Communications, D.C.’s 911 call center, says operators could not hear her. On all three occasions, two separate call takers experienced the same silence from this specific caller, which possibly indicates that the caller’s cell phone was muted or that there was a carrier issue. The woman says she could hear the operators and one even said “I am going to hang up on you in 30 seconds.”

“If you cannot hear me then at least let me know you cannot hear me or let me somehow know help is coming,” the woman says.

Despite three successive calls from the same number with an open line, after ABC7’s inquiries, the Office of Unified Communications said Wednesday they found out that “the call takers involved did not call the number back or challenge the calls with TTY,” which involves sending a text message to the phone. “As a result of this incident, all OUC Emergency Operations employees will be retrained on these policies and processes.”

So what happens when a victim calls from a cell phone and can’t speak or tell operators where they are located? Can cell phones in D.C. be tracked using cell phone and mapping technology? When 70-percent of calls for help in the city originate from cell phones, it’s an issue city leaders say cannot be ignored.

“Some way that they can assure people that if something is wrong with your phone that you can still get help,” the woman says.