WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday announced the appointment of a new 911 call center director to lead the agency under fire for allegations of mismanaged emergency calls.
The mayor named Heather McGaffin, the deputy at the Office of Unified Communications since last February, to be the acting director pending City Council approval. She begins the new post on Feb. 13.
McGaffin replaces Karima Holmes after key council members told Bowser late last year that they would not confirm her. The councilmembers pointed to a myriad of problems with the call center under her watch that led to misrouted calls — and, in some cases, deaths.
“We have had a vacancy open for the Office of Unified Communications for several months and we have conducted our interviews, and I’m very confident that we have a great leader in Heather to lead our agency,” the mayor said at a news briefing at the Wilson Building.
McGaffin is no stranger to the oft-troubled agency that has been under intense scrutiny. She joined the call center in Oct. of 2020 as the chief of special operations and investigations before moving up to deputy director.
The previous director was Karima Holmes. City Council members warned the mayor that Holmes would not get the job permanently because of leadership problems outlined in a DC Auditor report.
McGaffin started as a volunteer EMT for a local fire department at 16 years old, Bowser says.
“So I’ve worked in 911 since I was 22 years old, is when I took my first 911 call. I remember the call, I remember the thousands after that call. I have had the ability to work in multiple centers across this nation, both internally and as a support in helping to restructure.”
She admitted it will be a challenge.
“We have work to do and we’re going to do that work,” McGaffin said. “We are going to be strong in the work that we do and remain transparent and accountable in that work.”
It’s unclear when the council will hold a confirmation hearing.
Councilwoman Brooke Pinto, who is the chairperson of the committee on the judiciary and public safety, said in a statement that the 911 center “is a crucial agency and strong leadership” is needed to make sure to keep the public safe.
“When District residents call in an emergency, they should have complete faith that help will arrive in a timely manner at the right location,” the statement read. “We need a director who is committed to delivering on that expectation and laser-focused on reducing mistakes and increasing training. I look forward to meeting with Acting Director McGaffin and conducting a comprehensive confirmation process to ensure we are aligned in those goals.”
Bowser said she thinks McGaffin is the best person suited for the job even after a national search, even though she’s coming from inside the agency.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to people who are inside the agency, outside the agency and people who have questions about the agency and what they want is a person who knows 911 from the inside and out, up from dispatching calls to training staff to supporting staff and even if it’s necessary to disciplining staff,’ Bowser said. “That is the leader we have in Heather.”