WASHINGTON – Communications and evacuation plans were the biggest problem areas in local governments’ response to the Sept. 11 attacks, a special task force said Wednesday.
But the task force of Washington-area government representatives also took time to applaud the area’s emergency response in what one member called “uncharted territory.”
“Since Sept. 11, events have moved our nation to uncharted territory,” said Carol Schwartz, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments board of directors. “The purpose of this new COG task force . . . is to make sure that all of these efforts are coordinated . . . to allow us to respond as one.”
That was not always the case in the frantic moments during and after the Sept. 11 attacks, said John Mason, chairman of the Transportation Planning Board.
“We did not perform very well from a coordinated regional perspective,” Mason said. “You cannot talk transportation without engaging public safety.”
Ronald Kirby, the director of transportation planning at COG, said the region should model its communication system after the “transcom” model in the New York metropolitan region, which allows instant communication between highway and transit agencies.
But task force members said federal funding will be necessary to make the needed improvements, and expressed concern that the Office of Homeland Security may not allocate enough money for the job.
Task force members said they plan to lobby their members of Congress to make sure the emergency plans are a priority.
“It is a sobering challenge,” said Duncan Campbell, of the newly formed federal Homeland Security Office. “We are confident that a strong federal and regional partnership will serve us well.”
Despite criticism of Washington’s response on the day of the attacks, Arlington, Va., Chief Ed Flynn, the chairman of COG’s Police Chiefs Committee, said he was impressed with Washington’s response.
“We were very fortunate that the attacks happened in a jurisdiction as networked as this one,” Flynn said.
Prince George’s County Council member M.H. “Jim” Estepp, a task force vice chairman, stressed that governments must work together to provide help for public service workers, “the people that are here day in and day out.”
“If we don’t do this as a team, we won’t be effective,” said Estepp.
Estepp said that 27 of the Pentagon victims who died in the Sept. 11 attacks and two postal workers who died from subsequent exposure to anthrax were Prince George’s County residents. He said the county needs resources for hospitals.
“I am hoping that this effort will make it clear to the people that are doling out resources that we need their help,” said Estepp.