- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2011

Alexandria’s mayor has penned a pointed letter to President Obama saying he was “disturbed” by a recent damning news report suggesting potential security vulnerabilities at the Mark Center, a new Defense Department complex in Northern Virginia.

Mayor William D. Euille wrote that he was “very disappointed” that the city has had difficulty getting necessary information to prepare for emergency response and called for the city to be treated as a “full partner” in addressing the public safety needs of the Defense Department’s Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) office complex, whose staff has started to trickle into the site.

An article posted on the Time magazine website last week said that the magazine had obtained a report that included blast studies laying out the hypothetical impact a truck bomb would have on the site, where thousands of Department of Defense employees are relocating as part of the federal governments Base Realignment and Closure plan.

“It is necessary for DOD to be open and honest with the City and its residents so that they can be reassured that there is no lack of security at the WHS. (as alleged in Time), or there are recognized problems so that DOD and City staff can properly plan and prepare for the public safety needs of the building and the surrounding area,” Mr. Euille, a Democrat, wrote in a letter dated Thursday. A copy of the letter was addressed to Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, as well as Rep. James P. Moran III, all Virginia Democrats.

The Time article said the report examined potential impacts of truck bombs similar in size to high-profile terrorist attacks. Several models showed that the building would essentially be wiped out, the magazine reported.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that protection levels have been carefully reviewed and are in accordance with the same levels of protection currently in place at the Pentagon.

“The bomb-resistant protection is a single aspect of what is actually a much larger series of protective measures that work as a system and have been put in place to protect the future residents” of the Mark Center, said Scott Harris, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers. “Because of the sensitivity of the information in question, [the Corps] will not discuss specifics regarding force protection for [the Mark Center] because it could pose a potential threat to DOD personnel and the communities at large.”

The city has been making preparations of its own as the first stream of 6,400 DOD workers move into the complex on Seminary Road at Interstate 395. Nearly 2,000 employees have moved in over the past month, with a goal of 2,300 by Sept. 15.

“The City of Alexandria has well established citywide, all-hazard emergency response plans and procedures in place. Specifically, the Alexandria fire department and Alexandria police department have been conducting a great amount of internal planning in regards to the [Mark Center] opening,” city spokesman Tony Castrilli said.

Alexandria police also have stationed officers at eight intersections during the morning and evening rush hours to mitigate traffic problems, he said.

In April, the Defense Department’s inspector general released a report supporting the dire predictions of traffic congestion. The agency’s watchdog cast doubt on the Army’s claim that the relocation won’t cause significant traffic problems, saying two traffic studies it performed provide insufficient evidence.

Funding of $100 million is available to pay for short- and long-term measures that officials hope will reduce traffic congestion in the area, but the improvements could take years to complete.