County connects Pentagon rescuers
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Sep 19, 2001
County of Arlington site
Since last week's terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Arlington County, Va.'s
Department of Technology Services, with the help of contractors, has supported
rescue and recovery efforts by equipping and maintaining telecommunications
and other devices.
"We're swamped. We're full-out," said chief information officer Jack
Belcher, whose staff of 60 has been working around-the-clock supporting
the hundreds of police, fire, emergency and federal personnel working at
the Pentagon site.
The county established its command center 40 minutes after the first
attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City Sept. 11. A month
before, the county went through emergency operations drills preparing for
the now-cancelled International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings that were
to occur next week in Washington, D.C.
Belcher said field personnel have been using telephones, wireless phones
and pagers, fax machines and portable computers. He said the county even
bought a television set at a Best Buy store. The TV has a digital satellite
service connection so that workers can get news updates at the Pentagon
site, where the county has set up a logistics center under a tent alongside
So far, the technology used has lived up to the needs there, he said,
adding that the challenge has been employing technology that doesn't require
any time to learn.
"We're at the bottom line here," Belcher said. "[The technology] can't
be invasive. People are very tired and stressed and less patient than ever.
It's got to meet their needs. There's no time for a learning curve down
Some things, such as a fixed wireless network at the Pentagon, are being
developed "on the fly" to further aid the rescue attempts, he said. Such
wireless systems are positioned in fixed locations. Point-to-point signal
transmissions occur through the air across a land-based microwave platform
rather than through cables and, therefore, do not require satellite feeds
or local phone service.
Technology companies, he said, have helped provide and deploy communications
devices. For example, in the first hour of attack, Belcher said the emergency
operations center lost wireless phone communication. But workers contacted
Nextel Communications, which provided two-way radios, enough to outfit all
the key people. "The only thing [companies] say is, When do you need it,"
said Belcher, adding that vendors have been very responsive to the effort.
The county, he said, is establishing a second emergency operations center
in case of another crisis or if something happens at its facility, which
is in Northern Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington,
Belcher, who said he's gotten little sleep in the past week, said the
centers will be operational at least another 10 days, but possibly longer.
While complimenting his staff in their efforts to aid in the recovery effort,
he said, "the real people getting things done are the firemen, police and