- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

Passengers on the front line

In “Getting a drop on airline terrorists”(Commentary, Thursday), Henry I. Miller explains how airplane passengers might resist hijackers. Passengers on the planes that hit the World Trade Center may have thought they were seeing hijackings that were brutal, but not, until the last moments, suicidal. Passengers on the plane that came down in Pennsylvania knew what was afoot from their cell phones, and they heroically diverted the plane from whatever was its main target. We can’t rely on passengers suppressing hijackers, nor can we depend on federal marshals because they are on just a few flights.

By far the best way to prevent another September 11 incident is to secure the cockpit and instruct cockpit crews that they must never be coerced by threats from the passenger cabin to allow entry. If the pilot is informed by a signal from the cabin crew of hostile action, he should announce that he is breaking contact with the passenger cabin and crew and will land at the first opportunity.

There are ways for the flight crew to exit the cockpit one at a time in safety for a rest, if necessary. For example, they could block the aisle with a cart, or even ask all passengers to remain seated. Crew members, as an extra precaution, could carry stun guns.

If these measures were to be adopted, they would eliminate many annoying and time-consuming security procedures, such as searches for sharp objects and the use of plastic cutlery. Security then could be concentrated on screening for explosives with the proven technology used for checked baggage.

WILLIAM T. SMITH

McLean

I applaud Henry I. Miller for suggesting that airline passengers must be prepared to take vigilante action in the event of a terrorist hijacking. Better yet, cabin crews hopefully will be well-trained on improvised weapons and counterattack defenses so they can pass out wine-bottle clubs, boiling-hot coffee, etc., and organize passenger resistance. Few passengers will be aware of the defense possibilities or take the initiative on their own.

Just as the crew takes command preparing for takeoff and landing, it must have authority to command when terrorism is suspected. We need legislation giving airline crew members powerful authority, announced during the pre-takeoff safety briefing, to direct passenger behavior whenever needed.

Crews need to have the power to direct a suspect to sit where and when directed, with severe penalties for failure to obey. That would enable rapid determination of whether a given incident is a case of stupidity or a possible terrorist attack. It also would alert the other passengers that vigilante assistance may be needed. From time to time, a few “innocent” drunk passengers may pay a severe price for their stupidity. That is the cost of security in these terrorist times.

In addition to vigilantes, the government could use the public as consultants. It could establish an office to receive public suggestions regarding possible terrorist scenarios and defense measures. On September 11, I thought of the use of the seat cushions or small baggage as partial protection from terrorist knifes, but I have not known where to submit the suggestion. I worried that the ideas would “fall through the cracks” if given to a Federal Aviation Administration bureaucrat. Can we trust that cabin crews have been trained by now in organizing anti-terrorist countermeasures?

DR. JAN POLISSAR

Bethesda

The community and the university

As many of your readers may know, the University of the District of Columbia has withstood many challenges since its creation in 1976, including severe budget cuts that nearly forced the school to close its doors, financial difficulties and a high turnover in leadership. Through these and other challenges, the only public university in the nation’s capital has not just survived, but prospered.

Since becoming president of the university two years ago, I have seen much improvement and cause for optimism. Our student population has stabilized, our faculty is working under its first collective-bargaining agreement in 10 years and outside agencies are working in cooperation with us to help fulfill our mission as the country’s only urban land-grant university.

Thanks to the support of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council, we have received funding to plan the construction of a new student center. Over the past 18 months, we have completed the construction of a state-of-the-art interactive classroom, renovated the David A. Clarke School of Law library and done many other repairs and upgrades to improve the quality of the educational experience of the UDC student population. Much, however, remains to be done.

Yet, despite these improvements, your article (“Panel demands upgrades at UDC,” Metropolitan, July 9) continues a trend in news “coverage” of the university that is biased and one-dimensional. Often, stories appearing in The Times about UDC are so openly prejudiced against the university’s interests that the rational reader might question the motives of your newspaper.

In this most recent example, the reporting focused primarily on cosmetic discrepancies found in classrooms across our campus. Any college campus in nearly constant use for 30 years will show wear and tear, such as scuff marks on walls and floors. If the university had the resources, workers could be assigned to constantly monitor and repair such problems. Unfortunately, we do not have the budget to support such a scenario.

Having toured the campus recently, I did note these minor problems, but I strongly disagree that any of them merits the extensive coverage provided in The Times. What I did notice during my tour, however, were the newly renovated laboratories and “smart” classrooms. I saw updated restrooms, repaired elevators and new carpeting. I also noticed much other work in progress.

My concern is that failure to report on the positive growth and development of the university will dissuade potential students from seeking the unique opportunities that await them on our campus.

This is a disservice to the community that The Washington Times covers, as education is the key to advancement in life. If your newspaper is committed to improving educational opportunities for all our residents, you seem to have missed the mark. We encourage you to join in the pursuit of additional resources to improve the University of the District of Columbia. Together, we can secure a better future for the residents of our nation’s capital.

WILLIAM L. POLLARD

President

University of the District of Columbia

Washington

Drug-testing students

Your otherwise excellent article about the new Virginia student drug-testing guidelines, “Schools resist drug testing” (Metropolitan, Tuesday), unfortunately had a headline that distracted from the primary news: that the state of Virginia has authorized student drug testing for local schools that want to use it and has produced guidelines for the legal and practical application of this effective new drug-abuse-prevention tool.

The article could have commented more on the specifics of the new guidelines instead of emphasizing doubt by some school officials who have only recently become aware of them. At least it could have providedaWeblink (www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/PC/DrugTestingGuidelines.pdf) through which readers could read and evaluate the guidelines for themselves.

Even though I’m a little disappointed by the article’s emphasis, I do applaud The Washington Times for publicizing this important news about the increasingly popular health-related drug-prevention tool of student drug testing, which is being used successfully in numerous schools throughout America.

DEFOREST RATHBONE

Chairman

National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy

Great Falls

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