Associated Press Writer
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - Arlington County officials told emergency
officials from around the country Wednesday that they were not
equipped to handle the Pentagon disaster on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We were a pre-disaster community, so our emergency structure
was built around assumptions," Arlington County Fire Captain Mark
Penn said at the end of a three-day conference on emergency
preparedness held less than a mile from where a hijacked airliner
slammed into the Pentagon.
Now there are a whole new set of assumptions.
"Did we think about terrorism? Yes. Did we think they could
attack the Pentagon? Yes. But did we really plan to that level of
attack? We did not," Penn said.
Arlington County officials have spent nearly 23 months revamping
emergency procedures, including transforming the county's crisis
command center into a mobile unit and creating a new Citizens Corps
Council to elicit public comment.
The county also purchased new text-messaging software for use on
PDAs and pagers. Arlington's first responders used to rely solely
on cellular phones and land lines, many of which failed on Sept.
11, 2001.
The county is also looking for funding for a new emergency
operations center and to purchase mass casualty equipment.
Arlington County, the Department of Homeland Security and the
Federal Bureau of Investigation co-hosted the conference entitled,
"Local Response to Terrorism: Lessons Learned from the 9-11 Attack
on the Pentagon." After Arlington officials presented their
findings, emergency responders from around the nation asked federal
officials for help in the event terrorists should strike their
According to the National Association of Counties, Arlington is
the nation's smallest county, occupying an area slightly less than
26 square miles. But for 10 days after American Airlines Flight 77
hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, county officials headed an
incident command post to which more than 30 federal and local
emergency agencies reported.
That effort was no failure. The county's after-action report was
used as a how-to disaster relief guide for authorities during the
anthrax and sniper attacks, as well as by first responders in the
Seattle area during a simulated dirty bomb drill, Arlington County
Fire Chief Edward Plaugher said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)