- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

The evacuation of the Capitol during last week's terrorist attacks was so confusing and disorganized that the chief of staff for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay later devised a plan only for that office in future emergencies:
Staffers are simply to exit if they feel they are in danger.
Another couple, working in separate offices at the Capitol and frustrated by two chaotic evacuations in one week, have agreed that during the next exodus they will meet at a designated tree.
That's not the way it is supposed to work in a government complex with hundreds of offices and thousands of tourists wandering about on any given day. After receiving orders from the sergeants-at-arms in the House and Senate, Capitol Police are to lead evacuations.
Two emergencies last week, however, revealed serious flaws in the plan, and Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols is promising an internal review.
"All those things need to be reviewed," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican. "There's no question it will all be tightened up considerably."
On Tuesday, many in Congress were watching on television as planes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. At 9:38 a.m., another plane slammed into the Pentagon, sending into the air a plume of black smoke that was easily visible from the Capitol.
Various politicians and their aides reasoned that the Capitol could be next. They decided to evacuate, despite getting no word from top security officials.
"We were racing past tourists who were still visiting the Capitol and past guards still at their posts," said a senior Senate Republican aide. "We gave our own evacuation order and exited in a tremendous bipartisan fashion."
According to procedure, Capitol Police are to carry out an evacuation after receiving the order from their watch commander, who in turn gets the word from the sergeants-at-arms in the House and Senate. But on Tuesday, a haphazard evacuation was under way for at least several minutes before police officers got the order from their superiors. Some officers radioed their supervisors in the interim to request guidance.
"I'll admit it was controlled chaos," Lt. Nichols said. "Can we do it better? We're going to examine ways to do it better."
Congressional staffers and lawmakers were uniform in their praise for the rank-and-file officers, saying the police got everyone out of the buildings safely in an incredibly stressful situation and remained indoors even as reports circulated of a hijacked plane headed for the Capitol.
Communication was disjointed. Some lawmakers say they never received the evacuation order. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, third in succession to the presidency, was being spirited away by security forces when he received a call on his mobile phone from Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt asking what was going on. Mr. Hastert told Mr. Gephardt to leave the building.
Helicopters eventually took the congressional leaders to Andrews Air Force Base, and they then flew to a secure location, believed to be in northern West Virginia. Meanwhile, other key members of Congress were left in an information vacuum.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, found himself standing on a sidewalk near the Capitol Police headquarters five hours after the attacks began, with still no word on what was happening.

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