- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

An independent report on Arlington County's response to the September 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon praises regional emergency workers, but singles out the D.C. fire department for deficiencies in its emergency response.
"The response to the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon was successful by any measure," the report reads. "Although the tragic loss of life from this horrific event could not be avoided, it was minimized. Damage, although severe, was constrained in area and the fire was brought quickly under control."
Nearly half the 60-page "after-action report" is devoted to emergency operations from regional fire and emergency medical services (EMS) crews. The report was commissioned by county officials and prepared by Titan Systems Corporation under a grant from the Department of Justice. It is based on a study of planning documents, mutual-aid agreements, survey forms and nearly 500 interviews.
At some points, it gives a minute-by-minute chronology of events the morning of September 11, beginning shortly before American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, killing 189 persons.
"The only thing special about the morning of September 11, 2001, was the spectacular fall weather across the Washington metropolitan area," the report says.
Within two minutes of the 9:38 a.m. attack, the report says, county rescue workers arrived at the Pentagon. Within three to five minutes, emergency officials contacted fire departments in Fairfax, Alexandria and the District for assistance. Within 12 minutes of impact, three area hospitals were prepared to treat victims.
"The [Arlington County Fire Department] has long recognized the possibility of a weapons of mass destruction terrorist attack in the Washington Metropolitan Area and has pursued an aggressive preparedness program for such an event," the report says. "All this and more contributed to the successful Pentagon response."
Among the report's 235 "recommendations" and "lessons learned" are calls to strengthen regional mutual-aid agreements and increase the number of training exercises among regional fire and EMS departments.
The report also says emergency radio channels were "oversaturated" on September 11 and there was a lack of communications interoperability between jurisdictions.
It says Arlington was not equipped to deal with an incident of the magnitude and duration of the Pentagon fire and at least initially did not have any building drawings or structural engineers to assist in finding access to critical points in the burning building.
But the report praises the efforts of supporting jurisdictions and agencies that, with few exceptions, operated "seamlessly.
"Neighboring jurisdictions rushed to the aid of the [Arlington County Fire Department] without hesitation," the report reads.
The one exception to the widespread cooperation was the D.C. fire department. While lauding the work of individual firefighters, it accuses D.C. fire commanders of "freelancing" when they arrived at the scene.
The report emphasizes that all units deployed to an incident must accept that the department in whose jurisdiction the incident occurred is in command.
"Many responders felt mutual-aid support from the [D.C. fire department] was deficient in two areas," it says.
"First, they deployed directly to the Pentagon, ignoring instructions to stage in the District of Columbia, and did so with more equipment than was requested.
"Second, the consensus of those on the ground is the [D.C. fire department] retained a degree of independence detrimental to good order and discipline within the [Incident Command System] structure."
The report recommends that in the future, units that choose to operate outside the unified structure be replaced.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide