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Profile: Building Operations Command Center (BOCC)

Building Operations Command Center (BOCC) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Almost half of the Pentagon has to be evacuated because of a small but smoky fire there. (CNN 8/2/2001) The three-alarm fire apparently starts early in the afternoon, in electrical wires near the loading dock behind a food service area, between two main corridors. (United Press International 8/2/2001) It starts on the building’s first floor but extends up to the second floor. (CNN 8/2/2001) It spreads into the return air duct system, causing smoke to disperse through a fifth of the building. Seventeen vehicles respond to it, and it is put out with extinguishers and a minimal amount of water. About 8,000 Pentagon workers are forced to evacuate from the building, but no one suffers any injury. (United Press International 8/2/2001) Reportedly, the fire provides “the Pentagon’s most relevant experience in dealing with the Flight 77 attack” on 9/11. It is one of the first real tests for the Pentagon’s new Building Operations Command Center (BOCC), which opened two months earlier, on June 4. (Needleman 2006) Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, will later recall that due to this fire, when the Pentagon is hit on 9/11 the emergency drill is “fresh in everybody’s mind.” Consequently his building maintenance and operations workers are able to “immediately [start] those same steps again.” (Barr 9/11/2006) And in response to this fire, Paul Haselbush, the director of real estate and facilities at the Pentagon, will direct his staff to update their emergency plans. As a result, his continuity of operations plan will be fresh in his mind when the attack occurs on 9/11. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 143)

In the Building Operations Command Center (BOCC) inside the Pentagon, Steve Carter and his team are watching the unfolding events in New York on one of the center’s monitors. (Plugged In Quarterly 3/2002, pp. 4-5 pdf file) As the assistant building manager, Carter is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Pentagon. (CNN 3/5/2002) The BOCC, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is where systems such as lighting, heating, fire safety, and security for the Pentagon all come together “through a network of thousands of sensors, actuators, and controllers.” According to Chuck Holland, a technical manager, it “has three eight-foot screens back-to-back that monitor everything.… Anything that happens inside and outside the building, we watch it.” (Snoonian 8/2003; Takash 6/2007) After seeing the television footage of the second WTC tower being hit, Carter tells his assistant: “That’s not an accident. We have an event going.” According to some accounts, he and his team immediately begin lockdowns, securing all the mechanical and electrical areas within the Pentagon. They also begin searching for unauthorized people and unusual packages. (Plugged In Quarterly 3/2002, pp. 4-5 pdf file; Hi-Tech Security Solutions 10/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 429) However, a report in the Washington Post suggests their response is less determined. It states that, after the second WTC crash, Carter “grew uneasy and called his boss to suggest they begin locking down electrical and mechanical rooms in the Pentagon in the event that officials upgraded building security.” The report does not say whether these actions are implemented before the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m. (Barr 9/11/2006) Carter also telephones the Pentagon’s Defense Protective Service and is informed that the threat condition for the building remains at “Normal” (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He is told that if it should change, DPS will notify the center. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 137) No steps are taken to evacuate the Pentagon or alert workers before it is attacked. (Vogel 2007, pp. 429)

Employees in the Pentagon’s Building Operations Command Center (BOCC) do not realize a plane has hit their building, and are confused when over 300 of the Pentagon’s fire alarms go off at once. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 31; WHYY-FM 5/27/2008) The BOCC, located on the first floor of the Pentagon’s innermost corridor, is usually staffed by two or three people who constantly monitor the building’s utility systems. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 137; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 31) In it, Steve Carter and Kathy Greenwell felt the building tremble and heard a dull explosion when the Pentagon was hit. Their computers then show that, in an instant, 335 fire alarms have gone off, including the alarm for the BOCC itself. As authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman will describe: “That didn’t make sense. Normally, fire spreads slowly. If the computer was correct, 400,000 square feet of the Pentagon had erupted into flame all at once.” Creed and Newman describe the plane impact that has caused this: “As the mass [of the aircraft] traveled through the building, it began to resemble a shaped charge, a form of explosive that funnels its force into a small, directed area—like a beam of energy—in order to punch holes through armor or other strong material.” The entire event, from the moment of impact until the aircraft’s movement is arrested, has “taken place in eight-tenths of a second.” (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 29-31) Furthermore, an unusual pattern of explosions occurred when the aircraft struck the Pentagon. The Defense Department’s book about the attack will describe: “The Jet A fuel atomized and quickly combusted, causing explosive bursts as the plane hurtled into the building. A detonation 150 feet inside the building resulted from a ‘fuel-air’ explosion after the Jet A tanks disintegrated on impact. Here, as elsewhere, there was no uniform pattern of death and destruction. The vagaries of the fuel-air explosions and freakish blast effects meant deaths occurred randomly inside the Pentagon, with the occupants of seemingly more secure interior offices sometimes suffering worse fates than those nearer the outside wall.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 37) In the BOCC, not realizing what has happened, Carter says aloud: “I think we have a truck bomb! Or some kind of explosion!” (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 31) It is not until later in the day that he learns a plane hit the Pentagon. (WHYY-FM 5/27/2008)


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