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Profile: Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC)

Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) was a participant or observer in the following events:

People in the vicinity of the Pentagon, including the managers of the high USA Today building, phone the local emergency call center, with concerns about their own safety. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48; McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] The Emergency Communications Center (ECC) is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for Arlington County, where the Pentagon is located. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66] After events in New York make it clear the US is under attack, the phones there light up with calls from local people wanting to know what to do. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48] According to Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department, the center is “receiving phone calls from buildings that are along the [Potomac] river and are also along the flight path for [Washington’s Reagan] National Airport,” which is about a mile from the Pentagon. [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008]
USA Today Building Managers Concerned - Among the callers to the ECC are the building managers at the USA Today building in Rosslyn, who are worried their complex could be a target and want to know if they should evacuate it. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48] The USA Today complex is just a few miles down the road from the Pentagon. [USA Today, 9/13/2001] It includes the two tallest high-rise buildings in the county, one of which is 30-stories high. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 9] These two buildings are in fact known as the “Twin Towers.” [Washington Business Journal, 9/7/2001]
ECC Suggests Evacuation - The ECC has no specific guidance it can offer the building managers, but tells them that if it makes them feel better, based on what they are seeing on television, then they should evacuate their building. [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] Some employees will begin evacuating from the USA Today building after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37. However, Westfield Realty, the company that owns the building, will not ask the tenants to evacuate until around 11:00 a.m. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Business Journal, 9/14/2001]
Firefighters Think USA Today Building Is a Possible Target - Around the time that the ECC is receiving calls from concerned people in the area, firefighters at a local fire station who have seen the television footage of the attacks in New York start speculating what landmarks terrorists might go for if they attacked northern Virginia. The firefighters in fact see the USA Today complex as the most obvious target, but they also consider the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, the White House, and the Capitol building to be potential targets. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 9-10] Just before the time of the Pentagon attack, a fire alarm will go off at the USA Today building, though it is unclear whether this is actually caused by a fire there (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008]

Entity Tags: USA Today building, Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, Arlington County Fire Department, James Schwartz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sergeant William Lagasse.Sergeant William Lagasse. [Source: Citizen Investigation Team]Several police officers and firefighters see the low-flying Flight 77 as it approaches the Pentagon and crashes. They quickly report this to their own agencies or to the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC), which is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for the county. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66]
bullet Arlington County Police Department Corporal Barry Foust is stopped at traffic lights less than two miles from the Pentagon, and spots the aircraft flying low, then sees a plume of smoke. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 13] He immediately calls the ECC and calmly reports: “I think we just had an airplane crash east of here. Must be in the District area.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C6]
bullet Police Motorcycle Officer Richard Cox is standing near a diner less than a mile from the Pentagon. Hearing a sudden roar, he turns and reportedly sees the plane “directly overhead… no more than a hundred feet off the ground.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 427] He calls the ECC and reports, “It’s an American Airlines plane headed eastbound over the [Columbia] Pike, possibly headed for the Pentagon.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C6]
bullet Fire Captain Steve McCoy and his crew are traveling north on Interstate 395 in ACFD Engine 101, for a training session in Crystal City. McCoy reportedly sees “a commercial airliner in steep descent, banking sharply to its right before disappearing beyond the horizon,” followed by “a tremendous explosion” and “a massive plume of smoke and fire.” He immediately radioes ECC and reports, “We got a plane down, it looks like in the Crystal City area by the 14th Street Bridge.” Being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center, he advises that the FBI should be notified, as this is a possible terrorist attack. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66]
bullet Officer Mark Bright of the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the Pentagon’s police force—is manning the security booth at the Pentagon’s Mall entrance, when he hears a loud noise. He will recall: “I saw the plane at the Navy Annex area [a few hundred yards from the Pentagon]. I knew it was going to strike the building because it was very, very low—at the height of the street lights.” As soon as he sees it hit the Pentagon he radioes in his report of the attack, and then speeds in his police cruiser to the crash site, becoming the first officer there. [American Forces Press Service, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 10/25/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 152]
bullet Sergeant William Lagasse, also a member of the DPS, is filling up his patrol car at a gas station near the Pentagon. He recalls that he sees an “American Airlines 757… approximately 100 feet above the ground level, maybe 60 feet in front of me.” He watches the plane crash into the Pentagon. His first reaction is to call the DPS Communications Center and state, “An aircraft has just flown into the side of the building.” He then grabs his medical bag and dashes to the crash scene. [Washington Post, 10/25/2001; Library of Congress, 12/4/2001]
bullet Alan Wallace and Mark Skipper of the Fort Myer Fire Department are manning the fire station by the Pentagon heliport, and are outside checking their truck. Wallace glances up and sees the plane coming at them, and the two men then dive for cover (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Wallace promptly radioes the fire department headquarters at Fort Myer, and reports that an airliner has hit the west side of the Pentagon. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 65]
Partly due to these calls, many emergency responders quickly learn of the crash and are able to arrive at the Pentagon within minutes of it (see 9:40 a.m.-9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66] Some fire and rescue units from Arlington County and elsewhere also respond—self-dispatching from stations or diverting from other destinations—after hearing Captain McCoy’s radio message to the ECC. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4]

Entity Tags: Barry Foust, Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, William Lagasse, Alan Wallace, Richard Cox, Steve McCoy, Mark Bright, Mark Skipper

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In response to an emergency 911 telephone call, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center dispatches several units to deal with an apartment fire at 1003 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia—within the vicinity of the Pentagon. Because this fire is in a high-rise building, nine different fire and medical service units are dispatched. However, the first engine crew to arrive radios to the other units that the fire has gone out. Consequently, by “sheer coincidence,” at the time when the Pentagon is hit, there are a significant number of available fire and medical service units already on the road nearby. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A9; Fire Engineering, 11/2002] Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later recall that, around this time, firefighters are dispatched in response to an alarm at the high-rise USA Today complex in Rosslyn (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The address of the complex is 1000 and 1110 Wilson Boulevard, suggesting this is in fact the same incident as the “apartment fire” at 1003 Wilson Boulevard. [Washington Business Journal, 9/7/2001; McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] Furthermore, apparently around this same time, soldiers from a bomb ordnance disposal unit at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon, are on their way to do a sweep of the Pentagon heliport, ready for the expected arrival of the president there at around midday (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 64-65]

Entity Tags: Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, James Schwartz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Firefighters and other rescuers at the Pentagon crash site.Firefighters and other rescuers at the Pentagon crash site. [Source: US Department of Defense]Emergency responders and others at the Pentagon experience serious problems with communications following the attack there. These difficulties last for several hours. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. 12-13; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 114] According to a federally funded report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack, communications systems had been busy “even before American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.” But when the crash occurs, “all area communications [seem] simultaneously overwhelmed.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A34] The Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack later describes, “Almost immediately radio traffic gridlocked, land lines were unavailable, and cellular telephone networks became so overloaded that for a time Pentagon officials and employees as well as some emergency responders could not call outside.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 114] This leads to significant problems: “Firefighters calling the [Arlington County Emergency Communications Center] couldn’t get through. Relatives of Pentagon workers found cellular and land lines jammed.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A34] The DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic at the Pentagon and the Rader Clinic at nearby Fort Myer are unable to establish reliable communications. Reportedly, “Hospitals and clinics could not be informed about the flow of casualties, and perhaps more damaging, communication between the fire and rescue and the emergency medical elements on-site was severely impaired.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 114] Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police heads to the crash site with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld immediately after the Pentagon is hit. He receives frantic pleas over his radio, regarding Rumsfeld’s whereabouts. But, as Davis later recalls, “the system was overloaded, everyone on the frequency was talking, everything jumbled, so I couldn’t get through and they went on asking” (see (9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-2] Cellular and landline telephone communications remain “virtually unreliable or inaccessible during the first few hours of the response.” But later on, in the afternoon, Verizon technicians and Secret Service technical staff install portable cellular towers at the Pentagon, and this significantly increases cell phone access. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C36] Communications problems are experienced not just around the Pentagon but also in the broader Washington area, with some senior government officials being affected (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 149]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, Pentagon, US Department of Defense, Aubrey Davis, Rader Clinic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

James Schwartz.James Schwartz. [Source: Arlington County, Virginia]Firefighting and other operations are severely disrupted when the Pentagon site is evacuated due to a report of an unidentified aircraft heading toward the Pentagon. Firefighters have to abandon their equipment and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30] Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz orders the evacuation after the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport notifies the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of an inbound aircraft that is not identifying itself and is heading up the Potomac River at a high rate of speed. It is not known if this is a hijacked plane, but no aircraft other than military jets are now supposed to be in the air. The ECC then notifies Schwartz at the Pentagon. By the time he orders the evacuation, the aircraft is reportedly just two minutes away. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and A52; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 187] At one point, the controllers at Reagan Airport are reporting that the plane has disappeared from radar, though they do not say why they think this is. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Approaching Aircraft Is 'Friendly' - The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly.” [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193] According to the Arlington County After-Action Report, it turns out to have been a government aircraft flying Attorney General John Ashcroft back to Washington. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453] However, a 2002 FAA report will state that Ashcroft’s plane landed in Washington “just before noon” (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file] If that report is correct, then the identity of the approaching aircraft is unclear.
Emergency Operations Disrupted - The firefighters and other emergency responders return to the Pentagon and resume their activities, but the evacuation has significantly disrupted firefighting operations, giving fires in some areas 30 minutes to gain ground. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193-194] The FBI’s evidence recovery operation has also been disrupted. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Evacuation Avoidable, Caused by Loss of FBI Presence - This evacuation is later determined to have been avoidable, and only necessary because of the loss of a senior FBI presence at the incident command post (ICP) at the Pentagon, which means there is no way for the ICP to verify whether the approaching aircraft is “friendly” or not. This loss is due to the FBI having relocated to the Virginia State Police Barracks shortly after midday (see (12:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The Arlington County After-Action Report will later conclude, “Friendly aircraft, carrying US government executives and escorted by fighter aircraft, should not have been cause for evacuation.” A previous evacuation of the Pentagon site due to reports of an approaching unidentified aircraft occurred around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and a third similar evacuation will occur on the morning of September 12 (see (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30-A31; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, James Schwartz, Arlington County Emergency Communications Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Firefighting operations at the Pentagon are disrupted when the crash site there is evacuated in response to a report of an approaching unidentified plane. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30; Fire Engineering, 11/2002] Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport have noticed an aircraft on their radar scopes that is not identifying itself and is flying fast up the Potomac River. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 333] They notify the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, which passes the information on to Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz, the incident commander at the Pentagon, and he orders the evacuation. Firefighters have to abandon their operations and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and C52] The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly,” and firefighters then return to work. [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 335] The plane was a government aircraft with FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh on board. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52] The Pentagon was similarly evacuated two times on September 11, due to false alarms over reports of unidentified aircraft heading for Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fire Engineering, 11/2002]

Entity Tags: Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, Joseph M. Allbaugh, James Schwartz, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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