- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

About 1,000 city and county officials from around the country listened to tips yesterday from Arlington and federal emergency workers on how to respond to events like the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

In the first of a three-day program on improving local responses to terrorism, visitors heard from, among others, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Arlington County Director of Emergency Management Jim Schwartz.

“For our homeland to be secure, first our hometowns must be secure,” Mr. Ridge said. “And you are integral to that.”

Speakers encouraged conference participants to work out plans for responding to major attacks and to build relationships with local, state and federal departments.

“The [Arlington County] ‘After-Action Report’ is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Barb Graff, the emergency-preparedness manager for Bellevue, Wash. “It’s wonderfully laid out. Learning lessons through someone who’s been through it is the best way to prepare.”

The report describes Arlington County and surrounding jurisdictions’ response, rescue and recovery efforts, detailing lessons learned and providing recommendations.

Byron Dixon, a member of the Arlington County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, was one of those who responded after an airliner flew into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

He said that while the Washington metropolitan area is a more obvious target for terrorists than some of the smaller towns from which representatives came, all should be prepared because an attack “can happen anyplace, anytime.”

“It was definitely chaos,” Mr. Dixon said of September 11. “In that chaos, we had to come together with different agencies. If there are any differences, you have to put them behind you.”

Larry Griggs, chief of the Greenwood Fire Department in Leflore County, Miss., said smaller cities need to be prepared.

“Even though we’re not an obvious target, it is potentially something we could face on a smaller scale,” he said. “I think it’s an important to have a plan, regardless of the size of the city.”

Mr. Schwartz and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Christopher Combs, both of whom played large roles in the aftermath of the Pentagon attack, have been traveling from city to city to describe to law-enforcement and city officials their partnership and teamwork in the ordeal. Yesterday they outlined how several organizations involved in the response cooperated.

After almost two years of traveling to speak about their experiences, they figured it was time to have a large group gather and discuss how their security has improved since the attacks and how it can continue to get better.

They said it is especially important for the conference participants to break down into smaller units and discuss what their cities are doing so that each locality’s delegation can get ideas on preparing for and preventing terrorism.

Additionally, Mr. Combs said, the cities’ representatives may need to be available and should have a plan worked out to aid nearby towns.

“Theirs may not be the target, but they may need to help somebody else,” he said.

Mr. Combs said Arlington set a strong example for emergency response by training with the FBI and other federal government groups before the attack. Thus, responders had an idea of what to do when it occurred.

The conference, sponsored by several groups including Arlington County, the Justice Department and the Office for Domestic Preparedness, lasts until noon tomorrow.

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