Thursday, January 19, 2006

A top D.C. official yesterday said he is concerned about a federal government plan to block cell phone transmissions in the District in the event of a terrorist attack.

“We have very strong reservations about using that protocol,” Edward D. Reiskin, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said during The Washington Times Corp.’s Citizens Forum Project on Disaster Preparedness.

Mr. Reiskin told the group of about 150 that the federal plan — intended to prevent terrorists from using cell phones to detonate remote explosive devices — could hamper the efforts of first responders.

A member of the panel of six, Mr. Reiskin said he did not know when the District and the federal government would complete a written emergency protocol.

The federal government has had a draft of the protocol since the summer.

“It is not a complete understanding,” Mr. Reiskin said. “The unpredictability of the federal government is something we have to deal with.”

Federal officials declined invitations to attend the forum, said Brian Bauman, director of the Citizens Forum Project.

A Homeland Security Department spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

The forum, part of a monthly program addressing regional issues, covered a range of topics on minimizing the effects of man-made and natural disasters.

Panel member Robert V. Brannum, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the District, said that no matter how well municipalities prepare, the “federal government will come in and do what it wants.”

“Communications between us is working, but I think that the communication with the federal government is not working,” Mr. Brannum said.

Panelist Dave Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said officials must build public confidence in the emergency system.

“I think the perception is no matter what we do we are going to be in trouble,” he said.

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., a Ward 5 Democrat who is running for mayor, said he was concerned that no federal officials attended the forum.

“I thought what was alarming was the absence of the federal government,” Mr. Orange said. “It has to be about partnership.”

Cleopatra Jones, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said the forum was too political. “I think everyone was cautious in their response,” she said.

T’chaka M. Sapp, another advisory neighborhood commissioner, said he wished more time had been allocated.

“They really didn’t get to the crux of the issue about the federal government,” Mr. Sapp said. “They still have not gotten to the nuts and bolts of what we are going to do.”

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