As in most major American cities, maintaining your personal safety in DC requires familiarization of your surroundings, awareness of threatening situations, and carrying yourself with confidence. Be alert. Talking on your cell phone or listening to an iPod will distract you. Don’t go out alone if at all possible; if you do, at least let someone know where you’ll be. Stick to areas with lots of people, and stay in well-lit areas at night. If you carry a purse or messenger bag, wear the strap across your shoulders, not to one side. Incidentally, it is against the law to talk on a cell phone and drive in the District of Columbia unless you have a “hands-free device.” If caught, you face a $100 fine.
If you visit the city for just about any length of time, you will be accosted by panhandlers. Their approaches run the gamut from simply having a cup to drop change in, to elaborate stories about needing money to visit a close relative in the hospital, to needing some specific amount to catch the bus or to buy a sandwich. It is a personal choice, of course, whether you feel obligated to give aid; just be aware that you will likely be asked many times in your stay.
The Washington Metro is the underground rail system that is by far the fastest and least complicated way to get around the city. It’s also generally a safe place that is occupied not only by dozens if not hundreds of people but each station has a StationMaster—a Metro employee who can direct you if lost or assist you in an emergency.
If you are on a train and you need to contact the train operator, use one of the emergency intercoms located on either end of a car. If an emergency occurs on a train platform, use one of the intercoms located on several of the pylons. You could also try your own cellular phone—but only if it’s Verizon; only Verizon phones currently work underground. By the way, don’t eat or drink on a Metro train—you can be ticketed and even arrested, as one 12 year old French fry eater found out after she was led away in handcuffs.
If you lose something on the Metro, you can call the Lost & Found office (202 962-1195) or fill out an Online Lost & Found Form. By the way—every year, hundreds of Metro patrons leave their bicycles behind (there are racks on the fronts of all city buses). Could you imagine forgetting you had a bicycle when you boarded?
The Washington Convention Center has its own internal security. In the event that a crime has taken place
in the Center, you can get in touch with them by calling 202-249-3333. You may also see any Security Officers who can also be informed of the situation.
In an emergency do not hesitate to call 911. In a non-emergency, call 311 for non-threatening, not serious, or crimes not currently in progress. You can also contact the “311” by dialing 202-737-4404.
There are Travelers Aid Stations at National Airport, Washington Dulles Airport, and Union Station. Their stations are staffed by volunteers who know the community and who have information about the resources to assist individuals and families in crisis while traveling.