Friday, May 20, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security is disputing D.C. officials’ complaints about not having access to the agency’s data and decisions during an evacuation of federal buildings last week.

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the District has had a representative — a Metropolitan Police officer — in the agency for several months.

?He has access to the high and low side [of security data],? Mr. Roehrkasse told The Washington Times. ?He has had access ever since he started working here.?

During a crisis, Homeland Security is supposed to notify the D.C. Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which then notifies the mayor and the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, an EMA spokeswoman said yesterday.

But EMA Director Barbara Childs-Pair yesterday said no one in Homeland Security notified her about the evacuation, as required by protocol.

In an interview on WTOP Radio, Mrs. Childs-Pair said she learned of the evacuation only by watching CNN.

Mrs. Childs-Pair said her office had received about 100 notifications from Homeland Security about various problems in the past but got no phone call, e-mail or Blackberry message from the agency about last week’s evacuation.

Confusion over protocol has persisted between federal and city officials since a wayward pilot flew into restricted D.C. airspace May 11. The incident prompted an evacuation of the White House, the Capitol and Supreme Court — without the notification of D.C. officials.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Thursday said he is working with federal officials to ensure there is no repeat of the lapse in communication and is seeking a ?corrected? protocol from Homeland Security.

?The main reason we want to know is … to be able to get our [emergency] equipment to the scene,? the mayor told The Times.

Mr. Roehrkasse has said his agency is working on the protocol but could not say when it would be completed.

Mr. Williams said city and federal officials will place D.C. workers in high levels of the command centers operated by Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration to monitor potential security threats.

Yesterday, his spokesman, Vincent Morris, said the mayor had just learned that the police officer in Homeland Security has had access to the ?high side? of the agency’s command center, but said the officer’s unfettered access is an ?issue of semantics.?

?I guess he has some clearance, but he doesn’t work in that room,? Mr. Morris said. ?The point that everybody is making is we just want to share the information.?

According to a May 15 report in The Washington Post, D.C. police Sgt. Guy Poirier, who is stationed at Homeland Security, learned of the plane only after receiving a phone call from a ?top [U.S.] Capitol Police official,? not his colleagues.

Sgt. Poirier notified his boss, Cmdr. Cathy Lanier, who phoned police command just before the incident ended, the paper reported.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who has complained about not being notified about the evacuation, was unavailable for comment yesterday, a spokesman said.

D.C. officials aren’t alone in their criticism of the evacuation.

First lady Laura Bush said the president should have been notified of the evacuation during his bicycle ride that day in Greenbelt.

?I think he should have been interrupted, but I’m not going to second-guess the Secret Service that were with him,? she told reporters shortly after taking off Thursday night on a trip to the Middle East.

The White House has defended the decision to let President Bush continue his afternoon ride unaware of the evacuation.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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