- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

D.C. officials said yesterday that they expect to know by next week why city leaders, police and rescue personnel were left in the dark Wednesday when a small plane flew into restricted airspace over the city.

“That’s what we’re in the process of [learning] right now,” said Ed Reiskin, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice. “We are reviewing what should have happened and what did happen. Clearly there needs to be some redundancy in the system.”

Mr. Reiskin said he is leading a city task force looking into the issue with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The task force also includes Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the city’s Emergency Management Agency, and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

“My focus is that this event revealed there is some room for improvement in how we deal with Homeland Security,” Mr. Reiskin said.

City and federal officials met after the September 11 attacks to improve communication during such an emergency. Among the improvements was the birth of the Homeland Security Department and its operations center.

The operations center includes officers from such federal, state and local agencies as the Metropolitan Police, the CIA, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the State Department, the Defense Department and the Los Angeles and New York police departments.

In the event of a large-scale security threat, the officers are supposed to notify their agencies.

A D.C. police officer was in the command center when the single-engine plane entered restricted air space Wednesday at about 11:28 a.m. and the conference call was made to evacuate the White House, the Capitol and other federal buildings.

However, it is not clear why the officer was not included in the call and why the city was not notified until about 12:23 p.m., after the all-clear command was given.

The center is divided in half: an intelligence side and a law-enforcement side. The intelligence side analyzes highly classified intelligence and how such information might affect the threat outlook for a region of the country.

The law-enforcement side tracks enforcement activities across the country for connections to terrorists.

But the flow of information also goes the other way. When Homeland Security becomes aware of a threat, officials are expected to brief the agencies in the operations center and coordinate activities.

It also is not clear whether the D.C. police officer was notified by Homeland Security officials about the potential threat.

Chief Ramsey said the officer was not informed about the unfolding incident because he was stationed in the law-enforcement side, where personnel have lower-level security clearances.

Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Valerie Smith said she did not know why the officer was not part of the call, which included the U.S. Capitol Police.

If the District had been notified, the city’s Emergency Management Agency then would have contacted the appropriate agencies based on a tiered notification system that alerts the mayor, top officials and rescue crews, then contacts other agencies as appropriate to the emergency.

Chief Ramsey acknowledged his officers missed a second possible means of notification when officers in the police department’s command center were not monitoring the Federal Aviation Administration’s radio broadcasts. He said the line comes in on a speakerphone and usually is monitored by about six persons, but the line was not connected when the incident occurred. The phone line would have told police only that commands had been issued to scramble jets to intercept the plane, which eventually landed in Frederick, Md., and deemed not to be a threat.

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