Emergencies -- Call tel. 911 for police, fire, and medical emergencies. This is a toll-free call. If you encounter serious problems, contact the Travelers Aid Society International (www.travelersaid.org; tel. 202/546-1127), a nationwide, nonprofit, social-service organization geared to helping travelers in difficult straits, from reuniting families separated while traveling to providing food and/or shelter to people stranded without cash. Travelers Aid operates help desks at Washington Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and Union Station. At Baltimore–Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a volunteer agency called Pathfinders (tel. 410/859-7826) staffs the customer service desks throughout the airport.
Hospitals -- If you don’t require immediate ambulance transportation but still need emergency-room treatment, call one of the following hospitals (and be sure to get directions): Children’s Hospital National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave. NW (tel. 202/476-5203); George Washington University Hospital, 900 23rd St. NW, at Washington Circle (tel. 202/715-4000); Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, 3800 Reservoir Rd. NW (tel. 202/444-2119); or Howard University Hospital, 2041 Georgia Ave. NW (tel. 202/865-1141).
Insurance -- As a rule, check your health insurance policies to make sure you’re covered should you get sick away from home. If you require additional medical insurance, try Travel Assistance International (www.travelassistanceinternational.com; tel. 800/821-2828 or 410/987-6233). Also consider buying travel insurance that covers costs incurred due to trip cancellation or interruption. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com, or try one of these recommended insurers: Travel Guard International (www.travelguard.com; tel. 800/826-4919) or Allianz Travel Insurance (formerly Access America; www.allianztravelinsurance.com; tel. 866/884-3556).
Police -- The number of different police agencies in Washington is quite staggering. They include the city’s own Metropolitan Police Department, the National Park Service police, the U.S. Capitol police, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Metro Transit police. The only thing you need to know is: In an emergency, dial tel. 911.
Safety -- In the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, the federal and D.C. governments, along with agencies such as the National Park Service, have continued to work together to increase security, not just at airports but also around the city, including at government buildings, tourist attractions, and in the subway. The most noticeable and, honestly, most irksome aspect of increased security at tourist attractions can be summed up in three little words: waiting in line. Although visitors have always had to queue to enter the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and other federal buildings, now it can take more time to get through because of more intense scrutiny when you finally reach the door.
Besides lines, you will notice the intense amount of security in place around the White House and the Capitol, as well as a profusion of vehicle barriers. A tightly secured underground visitor center at the Capitol, which opened in late 2008, was built in great part to safeguard members of Congress as well as all who work for them. Greater numbers of police and security officers are on duty around and inside government buildings, the memorials, and the Metro.
Just because so many police are around, you shouldn’t let your guard down. Washington, like any urban area, has a criminal element, so it’s important to stay alert and take normal safety precautions.
See “The Neighborhoods in Brief” section to get a better idea of where you might feel most comfortable. Ask hotel front-desk staff or the city’s tourist office if you’re in doubt about which neighborhoods are safe.
Avoid deserted areas, especially at night, and don’t go into public parks at night unless there’s a concert or a similar occasion that will attract a crowd.
Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and don’t display expensive cameras or electronic equipment. If you’re using a map, consult it inconspicuously—or better yet, try to study it before you leave your room. In general the more you look like a tourist, the more likely someone will try to take advantage of you. If you’re walking, pay attention to who is near you as you walk. If you’re attending a convention or event where you wear a name tag, remove it before venturing outside. Hold on to your purse, and place your wallet in an inside pocket. In theaters, restaurants, and other public places, keep your possessions in sight. Also remember that hotels are open to the public, and in a large hotel, security may not be able to screen everyone entering. Always lock your room door.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.