- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

By Tarron Lively, Robert Redding Jr., Matthew Cella and Audrey Hudson


D.C. officials are upset that federal authorities failed to notify them Wednesday before evacuating the White House, the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings when a small plane accidentally entered restricted airspace.

‘Nearly four years after September 11, 2001, we are still fighting the same fight,’ Mayor Anthony A. Williams said after thousands of workers spilled into city streets — a scene reminiscent of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Williams said he and other city officials did not learn about the alert ?until the all-clear was sounded.?

‘Critical and potentially life-or-death information about threats facing District residents needs to be shared immediately, not five, 10 or 15 minutes after the fact,’ he said. ‘There is too much at stake not to have a good, clear, open line of communication.’

James B. Martin, the D.C. fire department’s operations chief, said he could only ‘assume’ what was happening when he heard the jets roaring overhead and had gotten no warning about drills.

‘I had no other information,’ he said.

Chief Martin also said the department has emergency-response plans for the White House and Capitol, so three or four minutes of advance warning would have made ‘a world of difference.’

‘It allows me to at least predeploy my people and give them some knowledge of what is going on,’ he said. Federal officials ‘exist in our city, we don’t exist in theirs. They have an absolute responsibility to notify us.’

Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Valerie Smith said the city was contacted at 12:23 p.m. via an e-mail from the Office of National Capitol Region Coordination. She also said that the message came ?as soon as information was available? and that it was immediately followed by a phone call.

‘The notification took place after the plane was diverted but before it landed,’ Mrs. Smith said. ‘This type of event unfolds very quickly. The immediate security measures took place in this situation.’

She said a Metropolitan Police Department representative was among dozens of officials from federal, state and local agencies inside the national coordination office. But she did not know why the city police representative was not part of the conference call that included the U.S. Capitol Police.

‘I can’t confirm exactly how that communication took place,’ she said. ‘However, standard procedures are for representatives from D.C. to be within the operations center and to be involved as events unfold. The purpose of the office is to have representatives from every agency together, having the same level of situational awareness, and to reach back to their organization to coordinate their activities.’

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the city might have known earlier about the incident if a line to the Federal Aviation Administration had not been disconnected. He said the line comes in on a speakerphone and is monitored by about six persons. He is investigating why nobody was listening to the line at the time.

Still, city officials were fuming yesterday about being informed almost an hour after the single-engine Cessna appeared to be headed for the White House.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, called communication efforts yesterday ‘a total screw-up.’

‘The White House and Capitol were evacuated with no problem,’ said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. ‘But Homeland Security must understand that these are not the only important people in the District of Columbia.’

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, called for an investigation and said the communications lapse was ‘very disrespectful’ and ‘inexcusable.’

‘I think there needs to be a briefing between President Bush and Mayor Williams,’ he said. ‘They need to have an understanding because at the end of the day the District government is in charge of the District of Columbia.’

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