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Public Safety Communications Center

History of the PSCC

In July 2001, the District of Columbia inaugurated the Public Safety Communications Center (PSCC) to improve 911 service for District residents, workers and visitors. Located on McMillan Drive, NW, the PSCC combines state-of-the-art technology with a modern facility that enhances agency coordination and improves employee productivity. For the first time, police and fire/emergency medical services communications personnel are located in the same facility to more efficiently answer and dispatch calls for service.

On October 1, 2004, management of the PSCC changed from a joint operation of the Metropolitan Police Department and the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to a new District of Columbia government agency: the Office of Unified Communications (OUC).

The new agency's responsibilities includes all 911 and 311 call-taking, as well as all police, fire and medical dispatching. These operations were conducted at the PSCC until September 2006, when construction on the new facility on the east campus of Saint Elizabeth's Hospital was completed. The new state-of-the-art Unified Communications Center includes 911 and 311 services. The PSCC remains the primary backup facility for emergency and non-emergency communications in DC.

Both the MPDC and the Fire/EMS Department are maintaining on-site liaison units to the new OUC. However, the transfer of management responsibility to the OUC reduces the number of sworn police officers working in emergency communications, thus making more officers available for neighborhood patrols and other operational assignments.

Addressing a Public Safety Crisis

Problems with the District of Columbia’s 911 system have been well documented and widely publicized for some time. A 1998 DC Inspector General's report identified a number of shortcomings in 911 system technology, operational procedures, personnel policies, and facilities. A series of news media reports amplified problems with antiquated technology, delays in answering calls, poor coordination between the Metropolitan Police and Fire/EMS departments, and other critical aspects of the system. The bottom line: Public confidence in 911 had been seriously eroded to the point that the District was facing nothing short of a public safety crisis.

As early as his January 1999 inaugural address, Mayor Anthony A. Williams made a commitment to “get 911 calls answered” in a prompt, efficient, and courteous manner. In recent years, the Williams Administration began to develop and implement a long-term road map for totally re-engineering 911 service in the District. Significant improvements to date have included pay raises for communications personnel, enhanced leadership in the MPDC’s Communications Division, implementation of the 311 non-emergency number, and installation of a new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. While these improvements have been significant, problems with critical call-answering technology and dispatch facilities remained.

The opening of the new Public Safety Communications Center represents a critical step in advancing the District’s emergency communications strategy and realizing the Mayor’s vision for improved service. In addition to leveraging the previous reforms that have been made, this move addresses such key issues as outstanding technology needs, infrastructure shortcomings, and improved coordination among police and fire/EMS communications personnel.

What Is the PSCC?

The Public Safety Communications Center combines police and fire/EMS call-taking and dispatching functions in a single facility. Previously, call-taking and police dispatching were conducted at an antiquated facility on the 6th floor of Metropolitan Police headquarters at 300 Indiana Avenue, NW. Fire/EMS dispatching was performed at the old Fire/EMS Department building located next to the new facility on McMillan Drive. The new facility brings call-takers, dispatchers, and their supervisors onto the same operational floor.

In addition to handling emergency call-taking and dispatching, the PSCC houses the Police Department’s 311 non-emergency number and the Telephone Reporting Unit. The TRU takes reports from callers whose incident does not require the dispatching of a police officer to the scene. The PSCC also includes a remote Special Operation Communications Center (SOCC) that can be used by emergency leadership personnel during a critical incident. Extensive training facilities are also part of the center.

Key Improvements

The Public Safety Communications Center includes a number of key technological and infrastructure improvements designed to enhance service and improve employee productivity:

  • State-of-the-art telephone system. Police and Fire/EMS now operate on the same state-of-the-art telephone system. That system includes a new automated call distributor, a critical component that accepts the calls, directs them to the appropriate call-taker, and captures critical information about the call. Shortcomings in the old ACD system were a major source of problems with prior 911 service.
  • Improved service for the deaf and hard of hearing. The new emergency system instantly recognizes TDD/TTY calls from citizens who are deaf or hard of hearing. The system provides the call-taker with customized, pre-programmed phrases that enable call-takers to speak directly to the TDD/TTY devices in a syntax the devices recognize. This will dramatically improve emergency communications with members of the District’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
  • Unified computer-aided dispatch system. Both police and fire/EMS are using the same computer-aided dispatch system, which keeps track of where units have been dispatched and assists dispatchers in managing field resources. The new CAD system includes a sophisticated mapping component that displays real-time information in an easy-to-use visual format.
  • Radio system support. Radio consoles support both the police and fire/EMS radio systems.
  • Enhanced call recording. The new system records all calls and allows personnel to instantly replay the last 20 minutes of traffic directly at their station.
  • Co-location of police and fire/EMS functions. The new facility brings together for the first time all communications personnel in the Police and Fire/EMS departments. Co-locations enhances coordination during critical incidents as well as during the management of everyday call volumes.
  • Specially designed furniture. The PSCC represents the first US installation of ergonomic furniture specially designed for emergency call-taking and dispatch personnel. For example, work surfaces easily raise and lower to support employees who may wish to stand or sit during various times of their tour of duty.
  • Enhanced productivity features. The PSCC includes a variety of amenities designed to reduce stress and improve productivity among emergency communications employees. In addition to specially designed lighting and acoustics, the center includes a workout facility, an extensive kitchen and break rooms, and a “quiet room” to which employees can retire following a particularly difficult or stressful call.
  • Strict security. Special security procedures have been implemented to make the facility resistant to attack or threat, both physical and technological.

The PSCC provides the technological reliability, flexibility, and efficiency to dramatically improve the ability of the Police and Fire/EMS departments to answer and respond to calls for service.