- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

The region must improve teamwork among local jurisdictions in case of a major emergency and figure out how to get people safely out of the city before authorities can say they have an effective emergency response plan in place, official planners said yesterday.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Office of Homeland Security said evacuation planning and communications have improved since terrorists struck the Pentagon September 11, but both need more work before a final response plan can be approved by COG at its Sept. 11, 2002, board meeting.
The biggest hurdle has been getting the region on the same page when it comes to the best radios, cell phones and land-line telephones emergency teams should use during a terrorist attack, Michael C. Rogers, COG's executive director, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times during a meeting yesterday.
"On September 11 there were 900 radios used at the Pentagon. Some were 800 megahertz and some were not," Mr. Rogers said.
"We need to either get everyone on 800 mhz or have enough radios of that type available for everyone to use in the event of an emergency," he said, adding "We also need to reach out to the Red Cross and the nonprofits to discuss how we should develop volunteer groups to help in the event of a disaster."
Mr. Rogers said COG is already working on getting enough radios to be distributed during an emergency situation. He said specific problems like the dead zones in the D.C. fire department's communications grid and in Metro tunnels are already being addressed.
"D.C. fire received additional funds in this year's supplemental budget for more antennas to take care of those dead spots," Mr. Rogers said.
He said the Metropolitan Police Department has money appropriated to switch its communications to 800 mhz. The Virginia jurisdictions already have them, and Montgomery County will have its new 800 mhz communications system up and running by the end of this month.
"But Prince George's County is lagging right now," said Bruce Williams, chairman of the COG board of directors.
The COG board has been working on a new regional response plan since the September 11 attacks. On Oct. 10, D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, who then chaired COG, asked Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge for his help in organizing a newly created task force that would develop the regional emergency response plan.
Stephen Rickman, director of readiness for the Office of Homeland Security, said the city and surrounding jurisdictions have to make sure there is a consistent traffic flow if the city had to be evacuated.
"If you have 200,000 federal employees leave the city and then add in the private sector and D.C. government employees, we have to have police officers from the [different counties and cities] monitoring the motorists as they leave the city and enter the other areas," Mr. Rickman said.
The COG board has identified 70 intersections that must have officers present to direct traffic.
One key improvement to regional communication is the establishment of a Regional Incident Coordination and Communication System. The RICCS system provides a way for the local, state, and federal leaders to reach each other and coordinate emergency work crews within 30 minutes of a disaster, Mr. Rogers said.
The federal government has appropriated $320 million for the equipment and training to get the job done.
Mr. Williams said he hopes to have everything worked out by the Sept. 11 board meeting.
"And we still need to test this plan in the fall once it is improved," Mr. Rogers said.

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