Wednesday, May 18, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that his meeting with U.S. officials about better communication during high-security threats included talks about getting police officers deeper into federal command centers for better access to raw data.

“We are talking about changing some of the procedures … that I think will go a long way,” said Mr. Williams, who has scheduled a series of meetings with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in the aftermath of a small plane drifting into restricted airspace last week.

One immediate change, Mr. Williams said, is that a city official will be posted at the Transportation Security Administration’s operations center and the District will better monitor a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) channel.

Metropolitan Police Department officers missed an alert that the private, single-engine plane entered restricted airspace May 11 because the department’s line to the FAA was disconnected between the night of May 10 and the morning of the incident.

“Those are no-brainers,” said Mr. Williams, a Democrat.

However, Homeland Security Department officials must complete a “risk assessment” before city officials can be allowed deeper into the Homeland Security Department’s operations center, where the country’s highest-level officials track information about possible terrorist threats.

“The question for us is: On which basis do we want to have a presence?” Mr. Williams said. “A 24-hour basis or a risk basis or a 9-to-5 basis?”

A city police officer already is stationed in the Homeland Security command center, but has a lower security clearance.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has said the officer was not alerted when the plane entered the region’s restricted space at 11:28 a.m.

Mr. Williams since has complained about the missed communication, saying the city was not notified until after the Capitol and White House were evacuated and the “all-clear” signal was given at about noon.

However, he said the meeting with Mr. Chertoff has moved the strained city-federal relationship to a more personal level.

“More than in any time I have seen before, [Mr. Chertoff] was personally engaged in reviewing the facts and coming forward with recommendations for the city,” Mr. Williams said. “In politics and government, you always have commitments, but here it is being implemented with the personal engagement of the secretary.”

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