- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

The first inkling that Metropolitan Police received about Wednesday’s evacuation of the U.S. Capitol was a police officer’s observation of the event in progress.

“One of my commanders happened to be on Capitol Hill and he saw the evacuation,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday.

“He called our command center to find out what was going on, then contacted U.S. Capitol Police and was told that they decided to evacuate the Capitol,” the chief said.

The evacuation — prompted by a private plane wandering into restricted airspace about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday — exposed a lack of communication between federal and D.C. officials that they have been trying to resolve since a similar incident May 11. D.C. officials are supposed to offer final revisions for an emergency protocol to the federal government this week.

According to the protocol, a police officer at the Homeland Security’s Operations Center is supposed to contact the police department, which then contacts the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. The EMA then notifies the mayor and other city officials.

D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said Wednesday that the FBI notified the head of his department, and Chief Ramsey said he learned of the event after receiving a page from police headquarters.

The chief said his officer contacted EMA, adding that he then received a page from the city’s emergency agency.

EMA Director Barbara Childs-Pair did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. She said last month that “redundancies” in the protocol have been employed to ensure that officials are alerted. Among them is monitoring the activities of the Capitol Police.

Edward D. Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said Federal Aviation Administration “squawk boxes” at the police department and EMA were manned — unlike in the May 11 incident.

“On the whole, we are pleased with the way things went,” Mr. Reiskin said. “There is a question about notification from Capitol Police.”

Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer could not be reached for comment.

Last month, Mrs. Childs-Pair told The Washington Times that a phone line between her agency and Capitol Police is part of the Washington-Area Warning Alert System. The system now includes feeds from Homeland Security and White House Operations, which “temporarily relocated” President Bush during Wednesday’s evacuation.

Chief Ramsey said he is considering placing a police officer at the command center for U.S. Capitol Police.

His department is considering adding another officer at the Homeland Security’s Operations Center and is placing an officer at the Transportation Security Administration.

Vincent Morris, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams — who is in Los Angeles attending the mayoral inauguration of Antonio Villaraigosa — said the mayor was “disappointed” about the lapse in evacuation communication.

“He had hoped we wouldn’t be here again,” he said. “There is way too much at stake not have good communication or to share information.”

The pilot of Wednesday’s plane was Scott Murwin of Athens, Ga., a longtime pilot for Standridge Color Corp., a plastics products company based in Social Circle, Ga.

“He was at the wrong altitude,” Mr. Murwin’s wife, Debbie, said in a brief telephone interview with the Associated Press late Wednesday from her home.

It is not clear whether Mr. Murwin will face charges.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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