After attending my neighborhood cluster meeting for emergency preparedness, I would like to compliment D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his team for an impressive presentation. Clearly, the city is far safer from terrorism as a result of their hard work.

Still, I left the meeting wondering which would be quicker -- receiving notification of an attack at the White House, five blocks from my home, or dialing 911 for help from the fire station three blocks away.

I heard about the whiz-bang communications technology, the unification and coordination of D.C. agencies under one plan, and how critical the first few minutes are in responding to an emergency.

That's why I was surprised that the mayor's team flubbed a question about how the shortcomings of the city's 911 service factored into emergency plans.

Peter G. LaPorte, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, curtly passed the question to a panelist from Fire and Emergency Medical Services. His reply? Changes are being made, and more people are being hired. He offered no specifics, reassurances or pledges to improve this fundamental emergency service.

Because the odds are far greater that the average D.C. resident would need the police, fire and medical services accessible only through 911, I thought it curious that the panelists and the mayor so quickly moved on to other, more exotic disaster-planning topics.

Perhaps I should e-mail the Emergency Management Agency if my house is burning down.

DAVID BATTS

Washington