- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

As the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks nears, regional transportation officials say emergency preparedness is better but improvements are still needed.

“Using London as an example, the Washington metropolitan region has a long way to go,” said David Snyder, a Falls Church City Council member on the region’s emergency-preparedness board.

Mr. Snyder said the information flow in London after the July 7 subway and bus bombings could serve as a model. People were quickly able to find out what happened. They were instructed not to use the transportation system and were later provided updates on which stations were closed and the condition of the highways.

“That system does not exist in the Washington metro area,” Mr. Snyder said.

There have been improvements in equipment that distributes emergency messages and drills to coordinate better cooperation among jurisdictions.

“What we found repeatedly was the people on the scene were doing their thing and doing a good job,” said Ron Kirby, director of transportation at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “The problem was getting the word out to others that might be affected.”

He said the average person is affected by the “transportation spillover,” not the incident. He pointed to the 2003 incident in which an angry tobacco farmer drove his tractor onto the Mall, which resulted in a 47-hour standoff and a traffic nightmare.

To help disseminate information better during future incidents, the council of government’s Transportation Planning Board wants to set up a regional transportation coordinator called CAPCOM, modeled after a similar system covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Mr. Kirby said the coordinator’s first priority would be the spillover effect.

“Right now it is everyone’s second priority,” he said.

Congress passed a federal highway bill this summer that included $1.6 million to set up CAPCOM.

“I think it’s great we’ve gotten the resources, [but] only in Washington would the solution to a problem be the creation of additional bureaucracy,” said Dan Tangherlini, the District’s director of transportation.

Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette said another problem is preventing information overload so cell phones and text pagers are not constantly vibrating.

Local government leaders say no transportation communication system will be complete without the federal government’s participation.

The region has more than 1,250 federal office buildings. Various federal law-enforcement agencies including the Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department control different streets and areas of the city.

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