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Hearing on Emergency Preparedness In the Nation's Capital

Friday, November 2, 2001

Hearing on Emergency Preparedness In the Nation's Capital

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, the Honorable Constance A. Morella, Chairwoman.

Madame Chair, Congresswoman Norton, other members of the Subcommittee, staff, and guests - I appreciate the opportunity to present this statement concerning emergency preparedness in the District of Columbia from the perspective of local enforcement.

As I look back on the horrific and unprecedented events of September 11th, I am very, very proud of how the members and leaders of the Metropolitan Police Department responded. Our members displayed much the same type of determination and agility … bravery and creativity … that were so evident in New York City and northern Virginia on that date. Our members helped to send a reassuring message to the residents, visitors and workers in the District of Columbia that their safety was of paramount importance to us. Allow me to provide a few examples:

  • On the morning of September 11th, our Department quickly recalled all officers and essential civilian personnel, cancelled their days off, and put all of our sworn members in uniform, on 12-hour shifts. Our immediate priority was to ensure that we had all of our personnel resources available and ready to deal with any threats or attacks on DC, while also continuing to patrol our neighborhoods. We met that priority quickly and effectively, I believe.

  • We got our state-of-the-art Joint Command and Control Center up and running immediately after the second World Trade Center attack. In fact, it was already operational before the hijacked plane struck the Pentagon. The center includes both MPD members and personnel from our critical partners in the federal and regional governments, including the FBI, the US Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the State Department, US Marshal's Service, Coast Guard, Amtrak, Metro and others. Having this joint Command Center operational from the earliest moments following the attacks allowed us to access, filter, verify and disseminate critical law enforcement information in the very hectic and confusing moments as these events were unfolding. We have kept the center up and running - at various levels of activation - since September 11th, and we are prepared to ramp it up as needed at a moment's notice.
  • We put officers at critical intersections throughout the city - both to enhance our visibility and to help direct traffic to the extent possible. I think we all recognize the Herculean task the District faced in trying to get that many people out of the city at one time. That we did so, in a safe and mostly orderly manner, is a testament to our police officers and other traffic safety personnel.
  • Our Department sent resources to assist with the Pentagon rescue and recovery efforts - mobile crime officers, search and rescue dogs, and some of our CDU platoons. These members worked long hours, under very grueling conditions, to assist the FBI and local law enforcement authorities.
  • And we continue to assist with the protection of critical federal and local installations here in the District.

That our Department carried out these and other missions - while continuing to provide basic policing services in our neighborhoods - is an illustration of our commitment and professionalism. That commitment and professionalism have continued in the weeks following the attacks, as new developments have arisen. I am confident that our Department - working with others in local and federal government - is fully prepared to address any threats our Nation's Capital may face in the future.

Earlier this month, I - along with Deputy Mayor Margret Kellems and members of my Command Staff - traveled to New York City to tour "ground zero" in lower Manhattan. We wanted to see first-hand the extent of the damages and the nature of the recovery operation - both of which are almost indescribable. Command members and I took a similar tour of the Pentagon attack site last month. Both sites are sober reminders of the threats we continue to face - especially here in the Nation's Capital - and the need to be prepared.

We also wanted to talk face-to-face with officials from the New York City Police Department and other public safety agencies who have been involved with - and so deeply affected by - this national tragedy. Their stories of individual courage and organizational resolve are not only moving, but very instructive to our efforts here in the District.

One theme we heard over and over again in New York was that when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, the Police Department and other public safety agencies did not have the luxury of waiting to consult their emergency operations plans. First and foremost, they did what police officers and firefighters and emergency medical personnel do in any incident approaching this magnitude: they rushed headlong into danger. And in doing so, they saved countless lives, even as many of their own did not survive. I am confident our police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel in DC would show the same courage and selfless dedication to service as we saw in New York and northern Virginia.

Still, our trip to New York did reinforce is the need to have comprehensive, well-thought-out plans to support not only the initial responders, but also the entire range of individuals touched by events such as these: the victims, their families, the other agencies that take part in the rescue and recovery efforts, neighbors, school-children … the list goes on. In other words, I think our plans need to build the type of support network that will enhance the safety and effectiveness of the initial responders, while creating a broad safety net for those who come in behind us.

For the MPD, there are a few critical areas we are focusing on, as we work to update and improve our emergency response plans.

  • Equipment is certainly critical, especially given the potential threat posed by biological or chemical attack. Like police departments in major cities across the country, we are now looking to upgrade the clothing, masks and other protective gear we issue to our officers - particularly those in specialized assignments that would be among the first responders to these types of critical incidents. As we continue this process, I think we need to look to the military and other parts of the federal government for standards and other guidance.

  • Training is another critical area. In fiscal 2000, we provided all sworn members of the MPD with a basic, four-hour training on weapons of mass destruction, as part of their regular in-service training. But we need to do much more. So we are now in the process of putting together a three-year training plan that will build on the basic "awareness" course with more specifics on how to handle "bio-chem" and related events.
  • The World Trade Center attacks demonstrated the importance of communications - both primary and backup - in events such as these. New York, like most cities, relies on a single vendor for its telephone service - in this case, Verizon. When Verizon's main switching station in lower Manhattan was rendered inoperable, telephone communications for the Police Department broke down. We need to be looking at backup procedure - possibly backup providers - to help us operate when the primary provider goes out.
  • I mentioned traffic earlier. Our Department is working closely with the District Division of Transportation, first, to develop an evacuation plan for the District should the need arise in the future. Then, we will be going to neighboring jurisdictions to ensure that our plans are coordinated with theirs. Traffic management is a regional issue, and we must deal with it in a comprehensive, regional manner. Coordination with our federal partners on traffic plans and street closures is also crucial. Our Department will continue to support the City Administrator, the Deputy Mayor and other District officials in their efforts to ensure that security needs are balanced with the imperative to keep traffic in our city moving smoothly and safely.

These and other changes have been incorporated into a new General Order that updates and improves our basic Emergency Response Plan. This order establishes three different levels of emergency response to different situations, and it includes a matrix of decisions and activities that will occur within each level. We are also in the process of developing more detailed Standard Operating Procedures for major operational and support units. These SOPs will put the overall plan into action.

Of course, there are no "rules" for the type of heartless attacks that occurred on September 11th. And because of that, there can be no hard-and-fast "rules" for how police officers and other first responders will react. Responding to the threats we face today will necessarily entail a great deal of quick-thinking, ingenuity and improvisation on our part. Our emergency response plans will play an important role in ensuring that we can respond as safely and effectively as possible - and that our officers will have all of the support mechanisms in place to carry out our unique and heroic responsibilities to the community.

Thank you very much.