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D.C. Prepared for Terrorist Attacks, Homeland Security Official Says

The District stands prepared for terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 should they occur, the city’s director of homeland security said recently.

“If the unfortunate case of an international terrorist attack were to take place here, the District of Columbia’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency [HSEMA] is ready to coordinate the city’s response,” Dr. Chris Rodriguez told The Informer. “We are the agency designated by the District government for that type of action. We are ready to serve and aid D.C. residents.”

His remarks came on the heels of the House Armed Services Committee’s approval on Sept. 2 of a measure giving D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser control of the District’s national guard.

While the international terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, focused on New York City, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon located in nearby northern Virginia, the District had its share of bedlam that day.

Former Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner Kathy Henderson remembers traffic being snarled on Florida Avenue for four hours as she went to pick up her daughter from school near the U.S. State Department. Former D.C. Council member Sandy Allen received orders from the office of Mayor Anthony Williams to stay in her house while a police escort remained outside throughout the day.

Clockwise from top left: Asia Cottom (11), Bernard Curtis Brown II (11), Dana (3) and Zoe Flakenberg (8), and Rodney Dickens (11)
Clockwise from top left: Asia Cottom (11), Bernard Curtis Brown II (11), Dana (3) and Zoe Flakenberg (8), and Rodney Dickens (11)

And while some District residents wonder what would happen if another attack occurred, Rodriguez says plans already exist to keep citizens safe.

D.C. Has a Plan Ready and Waiting 

Rodriguez said in the case of a terrorist attack, HSEMA would quickly initiate actions to thwart the impact.

“We work in conjunction with the Emergency Management Services, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Department of Human Services to prepare for that type of event,” he said.

“Since 9/11, the city has engaged in comprehensive planning and training of city employees for an attack. Additionally, we will work with our regional partners in Maryland and Virginia to see what can be done to keep people safe.”

Rodriguez said while he lived in another part of the country on Sept. 11, he has since heard about the District’s traffic jams and confusion that lasted up to eight hours.

“One of the things we are focused on is getting people out of town,” he said. “We have plans to coordinate with transportation networks such as Metro and the roadways to get people to safety. If needed, we will evacuate the city. Again, that is part of our regional effort. We use communication tools such as emails and texts to keep people informed of the latest developments.”

Some residents have concerns that in case of a terrorist attack, city officials will prioritize more affluent neighborhoods over poorer ones. Rodriguez said that’s simply not true.

“We want to make it clear that we will not leave anyone behind,” he said. “Our headquarters is in Ward 8. We are [entrenched] in the community. Everyone will be helped equally and fairly.”

Still, Rodriguez said residents should be prepared for a terrorist attack.

“If you see something, say something,” he said. “That protects our communities and our lives. If requested, we can provide training for community organizations. This is important because September is National Preparedness Month so emergency training is emphasized and crucial at this time. Plus, people can visit the HSEMA web site and sign up for our text alerts at alertdc.dc.gov.”

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