County connects Pentagon rescuers

County of Arlington site

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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

some vans.

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

there."

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,

D.C.

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

emergency personnel."

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