Where is your congressman?

Staffers and police officers working on Capitol Hill discovered May 11 that they had no way to know whether every member of Congress had been alerted to evacuate after a small plane had entered restricted air space.

That was a serious concern for those who recalled the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the probability that a plane might have been flown into the Capitol if passengers had not forced it to crash in a Pennsylvania field.

Although the Senate has been testing proximity cards for six months, the system failed during the incident earlier this month, said William Pickle, the Senate's sergeant at arms.

Normal evacuation procedures were not applicable because the plane's trajectory included the area outside the Capitol where fleeing staffers were supposed to gather.

Normally, an emergency coordinator in each senator's office takes a head count and informs a Capitol Police officer. The emergency coordinator checks in with a police officer and swipes the proximity card. The coordinator then reports on the attendance of staffers. That data is keyed into the police officer's laptop computer. The data transmits to the police department or an alternate computer facility if the network is not working.

"Check-in did not occur in most places," Pickle said. "Individual offices had a pretty good head count, ...but that information was probably not relayed to the Capitol Police as it should be."

The House and Senate are seeking better technological methods for counting employees during an emergency, government officials said after the May 11 event. They are considering biometrics, individual proximity cards, sensors and other technologies that can record check-ins. But those technologies have plenty of problems, Pickle said.

Some biometric identifier systems might not work outside. And security is a significant issue. "We've considered security and privacy in all the developments," he said. "We're very sensitive to information of a private nature."

The ability to track people is essential for relocating federal business or setting up a virtual workplace in the event of another terrorist attack or natural disaster. To begin continuity-of-operations plans, government officials need to know where their employees are, Pickle said. In late January, the House issued a presolicitation notice indicating that it is looking for "a solution for accountability of personnel during evacuations and crisis situations."

Officials are seeking comments from industry on integrated technologies that would account for building occupants for as long as 24 hours after evacuations. That would include House members, staff, contractors and visitors. They currently don't have a method for tracking who is in the Capitol and House office buildings.

During the recent incident, House officials said other new technologies helped reduce chaos. Lawmakers and their staffs evacuated their offices in a more orderly manner because of help from handheld communications devices.

Officials said the Capitol has made great strides since 2001, when there were only about 100 handheld devices in the building and cell phone networks clogged because of high volume.

Since then, the House has purchased e-mail-enabled handheld devices for all members, and each representative gets allowances to pay for service and buy additional personal digital assistants for their staffs. Thousands of handheld devices are now used throughout the area.

The House could potentially use proximity card technology to track who has evacuated the buildings, officials say. The system would record when cards pass by sensors. For instance, a sensor affixed to an exit would record the time an individual's card reached that sensor.

Officials maintain that such information would only be used during emergencies and only when someone enters or exits the building.

A big job for anyone

Ross Stapleton-Gray, a former CIA intelligence analyst, is the founder of Stapleton-Gray and Associates, an information technology consulting firm specializing in security, privacy and surveillance. He said technology is available to track federal workers during an emergency.

"You'd want to be able to detect someone lying unconscious in a restroom as well as scaling out an office window," he said. He suggests officials use motion sensors and video to account for everyone immediately after an emergency.

To determine everyone's status in the 24 hours following an emergency, Stapleton-Gray recommends partnering with wireless phone service providers. Such vendors would be able to find the locations of their phones using Global Positioning System technology or triangulation from cellular towers.

— Aliya Sternstein

NEXT STORY: U.S. simulates a cyberattack

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.