!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Senior Air Force Officials Arrive at Operations Center and Respond to Attacks

Harry Brosofsky.Harry Brosofsky. [Source: Syracuse University]General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, as well as other senior Air Force officials, arrive at the Air Force Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon’s C Ring, where they assist the Air Force’s response to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Operations Center Personnel Did Not Realize a Plane Had Hit the Pentagon - Jumper and Roche were in Roche’s office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when the Pentagon was hit, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and were then promptly escorted down to the Operations Center (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] They were unclear what had happened when the Pentagon was attacked, but when they arrive at the Operations Center, they find out that an aircraft hit the building. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] Those in the Operations Center had not initially realized a plane had hit the Pentagon either. The center is deep underground on the opposite site of the building to where it was hit and so they did not feel the impact when the attack occurred. But, according to the Dover Post, “Suddenly, sirens started to go off,” and “[r]eports from the television news and from outside the building confirmed the worst.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file]
Operations Center Is Quickly Going from 'Zero to Crisis Mode' - When Roche and Jumper arrive at the Operations Center, they find Air Force personnel there are “already starting to try to get the intel picture together; they were trying to get the air picture up on the walls,” according to Colonel Philip Breedlove, Roche’s senior military assistant, who has come down to the center with the two men. The center is “going from zero to crisis mode very quickly and very smoothly,” Breedlove will add. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Personnel in the center have been answering calls coming in on multiple lines. “We didn’t know who was still out there or what their hostile intention might be,” Major Harry Brosofsky, who arrived at the center shortly after the Pentagon was hit, will later recall. However, Brosofsky will say, “at times we had information overload and had to decide quickly what to do with all the information that was pouring in.” But the atmosphere is still noticeably professional, according to Major Donna Nicholas, who arrived at the center before the Pentagon was hit. “I was amazed at the calm,” she will comment.
Crisis Team Is at Work in Operations Center - Furthermore, the Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT), which, according to the Dover Post, “coordinates Air Force reaction to anything that might be a threat to the United States,” was activated earlier on and is now carrying out its activities in the Operations Center (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Members of the CAT have also begun to assemble in the center for a 10:00 a.m. briefing, due to the fact that one of their responsibilities is to work with the Army to provide assistance to civil authorities in New York, in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Roche and Jumper Try to Contact NORAD - The first thing Roche and Jumper do when they reach the Operations Center is try and locate Air Force personnel, to make sure they are safe, and safely out of the Pentagon. [CNN, 10/10/2001] CAT members work to obtain a head count of Air Force personnel who have evacuated from the building. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche and Jumper then try to contact NORAD. [CNN, 10/10/2001] The Air Force leaders are “not the command authority” at the moment, according to Air Force Magazine, and, instead, NORAD is primarily responsible for operational control of the situation. Air Force officials, however, still need to “do what they could to inform and support the operational units.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The CAT also coordinates with NORAD to put fighter jets on alert in Alaska and Hawaii. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche will recall that after contacting NORAD, he and Jumper “stand by and start to think of how we, the Air Force, could support any casualties or any other things that might develop during the day.” [CNN, 10/10/2001] The CAT also works with the FAA to monitor flight activity over the continental United States. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] And CAT members activate a team to focus on “continuity of operations,” which is the effort to ensure that the Air Force is able to continue its essential functions in an emergency. [US Department of Defense, 5/26/1995; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; US Air Force, 10/16/2013 pdf file]
Air Force Personnel Affected by Communication Problems - The ability of those in the Operations Center to respond to the crisis, however, is impaired when, at some point after Jumper and Roche arrive, communications go down. “There was a short period where literally the only [communications] we had was the BlackBerry device, because it communicates differently across the lines,” Breedlove will recall. The reason for the problem, according to Air Force Magazine, is that networks have become overloaded by people at the Pentagon and around Washington, DC, all trying to call their relatives to let them know they are okay. As the morning goes on, Air Force officials also begin experiencing problems with smoke from the burning building coming into the center. The decision will therefore be made to establish a temporary Air Force Operations Center at Bolling Air Force Base, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. At 12:20 p.m., Air Force leaders and assistants will be flown by helicopter to the base. The new Operations Center there will be up and functioning by 1:00 p.m. (see 1:00 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Air Force Crisis Action Team, Harry Brosofsky, James G. Roche, John P. Jumper, Philip M. Breedlove, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of the Air Force, Donna Nicholas, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Time period

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database


Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now


If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike