- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

The metropolitan area does not have an emergency-evacuation plan that can handle the gridlock that occurred during last month's terrorist attack on the Pentagon, when thousands of persons who work in the District had to evacuate themselves, regional officials said yesterday.
"There are no evacuation plans for the region, nor are there emergency-transportation plans for how people would move around this region in an emergency," Fairfax City Mayor John Mason said.
Mr. Mason, chairman of the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), said the word "evacuate" conjures up thoughts of moving "every last soul" farther from the site of an incident. What is needed most is for the region to have clarity about who directs action during an emergency, he said.
"I don't know the answer of who is in charge," Mr. Mason said, adding that the issue of an evacuation plan "hasn't come up before."
The need for a coordinated plan came to light Sept. 11, when terrorists hijacked an American Airlines jetliner and crashed it into the Pentagon. Confusion abounded about which roads and highways were closed, and the localities activated their emergency transportation plans without any coordination.
About two-thirds of those who work in the District live in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.
Falls Church Mayor David Snyder, a member of COG's transportation board, said the region's 17 jurisdictions present a challenge to area leaders in crafting an evacuation plan.
On Wednesday, the Transportation Planning Board agreed to quickly devise an emergency transportation plan to handle the thousands of people and cars that will need to be evacuated in a disaster. A first draft could be available within 60 days, Mr. Mason said.
Mr. Snyder said any evacuation blueprint "needs to knit" together the localities' plans and may require the localities to give up some autonomy to an executive committee or a person who decides for the entire region during a crisis.
"This is a regional issue. We are not going to wait for the federal government to handle this," Mr. Snyder said. "We are going to learn from our own problems."
One key component in linking local evacuation plans is Metro, which said yesterday it would send letters to regional transit leaders to ask to be part of the discourse.
Metro General Manager Richard A. White raised the issue of an emergency transportation plan at yesterday's Board of Directors' meeting and at the Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday.
"We're sort of acting as a catalyst," Mr. White said, adding that the terrorist attacks showed regional leaders the need to think in terms of "a world where minutes and days count," not months.
Mr. White yesterday handed out a chart showing how responsibilities could be divided under a plan that has an executive committee making decisions during an emergency. The committee would direct representatives from fire and police departments, military, federal agencies and localities.
Mr. White said a "czar" of regional homeland security may be needed to cut through red tape.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and COG chairwoman, said there is a need to "hasten these plans," and said she would be willing to try a different governing framework during times of emergency. She said the members for an executive committee should be drawn from COG.
Mrs. Schwartz said, however, that a comprehensive emergency-response plan, including transportation needs, also needs to be drafted quickly.
"We just have to realize that this could happen again," Mrs. Schwartz said of the Sept. 11 attacks.
COG Executive Director Michael Rogers said that during an emergency the traditional way of governing by consensus may have to be abandoned.
But he cautioned that COG and Transportation Planning Board members must realize there are many layers of government that must be included in the discussion, especially the federal government.
"It's not as simple as coming up with a plan," Mr. Rogers said. "I think we all want something done now, but we want it done right."
Meanwhile, Metro planners are looking at creating another subway line that would cut through Georgetown and downtown to relieve the expected congestion on the Orange Line in 2020.
Part of the transit agency's Core Capacity Study presented yesterday to the board showed that the new line would have to be built to keep up with ridership demands.
The new line, at a cost of $6.3 billion, would be part of the Blue Line and extend from an existing station in Falls Church to a station in Largo that is under construction.
Metro already has looked at adding a Georgetown station on the Red Line as part of its expansion plan, presented last spring. "It's still a concept," said Jim Hughes, Metro's planning director.
The board is still looking at adding more stations to the core of the 103-mile, 83-station subway system, as well as expanding the system into more Virginia and Maryland suburbs.
Mr. White said the new line would provide "some form of redundancy" so that if one section of a subway line has to shut down, another line can pick up the slack.
Mr. Hughes said construction would be done in three phases, but would have to begin by 2015 to meet ridership demands of 2020. Metro has a goal of 1 million daily subway riders by 2025.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide