9.3 EMERGENCY RESPONSE AT THE PENTAGON
HEROISM AND HORROR
If it had happened on any other day, the disaster at the Pentagon would be remembered as a singular challenge and an extraordinary national story.Yet the calamity at the World Trade Center that same morning included catastrophic damage 1,000 feet above the ground that instantly imperiled tens of thousands of people.The two experiences are not comparable. Nonetheless, broader les
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The Twin Towers following the impact of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175
Beckwith, Tamara ©
New York Post
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The Pentagon, after being struck by American Airlines Flight 77
United Airlines Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania
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sons in integrating multiagency response efforts are apparent when we analyze the response at the Pentagon. The emergency response at the Pentagon represented a mix of local, state, and federal jurisdictions and was generally effective. It overcame the inherent complications of a response across jurisdictions because the Incident Command System, a formalized management structure for emergency response, was in place in the National Capital Region on 9/11.190 Because of the nature of the event-a plane crash, fire, and partial building collapse-the Arlington County Fire Department served as incident commander. Different agencies had different roles.The incident required a major rescue, fire, and medical response from Arlington County at the U.S. military's headquarters-a facility under the control of the secretary of defense. Since it was a terrorist attack, the Department of Justice was the lead federal agency in charge (with authority delegated to the FBI for operational response). Additionally, the terrorist attack affected the daily operations and emergency management requirements of Arlington County and all bordering and surrounding jurisdictions.191 At 9:37, the west wall of the Pentagon was hit by hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757. The crash caused immediate and catastrophic damage. All 64 people aboard the airliner were killed,as were 125 people inside the Pentagon (70 civilians and 55 military service members). One hundred six people were seriously injured and transported to area hospitals.192 While no emergency response is flawless, the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon was mainly a success for three reasons:first,the strong professional relationships and trust established among emergency responders; second, the adoption of the Incident Command System; and third, the pursuit of a regional approach to response. Many fire and police agencies that responded had extensive prior experience working together on regional events and training exercises. Indeed, at the time preparations were under way at many of these agencies to ensure public safety at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank scheduled to be held later that month in Washington, D.C.193 Local, regional, state, and federal agencies immediately responded to the Pentagon attack. In addition to county fire, police, and sheriff's departments, the response was assisted by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Ronald ReaganWashington National Airport Fire Department,Fort Myer Fire Department, theVirginia State Police, theVirginia Department of Emergency Management,the FBI,FEMA,a National Medical ResponseTeam,the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco,and Firearms,and numerous military personnel within the Military District of Washington.194 Command was established at 9:41.At the same time, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center contacted the fire departments of Fairfax County, Alexandria, and the District of Columbia to request mutual aid.
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The incident command post provided a clear view of and access to the crash site, allowing the incident commander to assess the situation at all times.195 At 9:55, the incident commander ordered an evacuation of the Pentagon impact area because a partial collapse was imminent; it occurred at 9:57, and no first responder was injured.196 At 10:15, the incident commander ordered a full evacuation of the command post because of the warning of an approaching hijacked aircraft passed along by the FBI.This was the first of three evacuations caused by reports of incoming aircraft, and the evacuation order was well communicated and well coordinated.197 Several factors facilitated the response to this incident, and distinguish it from the far more difficult task in NewYork.There was a single incident, and it was not 1,000 feet above ground. The incident site was relatively easy to secure and contain, and there were no other buildings in the immediate area. There was no collateral damage beyond the Pentagon.198 Yet the Pentagon response encountered difficulties that echo those experienced in NewYork. As the "Arlington County: After-Action Report"notes, there were significant problems with both self-dispatching and communications: "Organizations,response units,and individuals proceeding on their own initiative directly to an incident site, without the knowledge and permission of the host jurisdiction and the Incident Commander, complicate the exercise of command, increase the risks faced by bonafide responders, and exacerbate the challenge of accountability."With respect to communications, the report concludes: "Almost all aspects of communications continue to be problematic, from initial notification to tactical operations. Cellular telephones were of little value. . . . Radio channels were initially oversaturated. . . . Pagers seemed to be the most reliable means of notification when available and used, but most firefighters are not issued pagers."199 It is a fair inference, given the differing situations in New York City and Northern Virginia, that the problems in command, control, and communications that occurred at both sites will likely recur in any emergency of similar scale. The task looking forward is to enable first responders to respond in a coordinated manner with the greatest possible awareness of the situation.