Just before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Mayor Bill Euille, frustrated with vague assurances from Defense Department officials, wrote President Obama asking that the agency be open and honest when it comes to security of his city.
Euille reached out to the president after Time Magazine published an article claiming antiterrorism experts are increasingly anxious that something similar” to the Oklahoma City bombing could happen in Alexandrias Mark Center neighborhood, where the new 6,400-employee Washington Headquarters Services high rises the Pentagons administrative arm nestle up against I-395.
Secret worst-case scenario studies depict the campus wiped out from street-level truck bomb blasts comparable to the Oklahoma City terrorist attack that killed 168 people and wounded almost 700 in 1995, Time reported.
Alexandria officials arent satisfied with DoDs response to the press, nor to City Hall. Ken Wells, spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers, told the Alexandria Times in April that the facility has been designed in authority with the Anti-Terrorism Force Protection Directorate, but DoD officials have remained mum on the topic.
Were asking for somebody to be honest and truthful in terms of whether it is or isnt meeting security requirements, Euille said. We dont believe that factual information is being presented when reporters inquiries are going unanswered.
Thats not what you want to hear when taxpayers have invested billions in building this structure in a densely populated area. They want know its heavily armored and can withstand a certain level of attack.
About 2,300 Pentagon staffers have trickled into the new administrative offices since August, with the rest scheduled to move in by fall of next year.
The traffic-prone location 3 miles from the Pentagon but about 4 from the nearest Metro station has been the main point of contention between residents and local, state and federal officials until recently. Now its the safety of WHS workers and the surrounding neighborhood, not traffic snarls, that worries locals.
My issue with the building is that were all clumped together. That definitely makes me nervous because I feel like were more like sitting ducks, said a DoD employee and Alexandria resident scheduled to move into the headquarters next year. She asked not to be named for fear of it affecting her employment. Its like [DoD] put all their eggs in one basket.
DoD officials have not addressed the security matters with employees internally, she said, and her current office building lacks stringent security.
We cant even get people to stop smoking within 50 feet of the building, she said. So even right now [security] is not something thats heavily enforced. But one big building is more of a target. Its like, look at us, whereas the building I work at right now is almost unmarked.
Alexandrias ability to respond to an attack has eclipsed traffic woes, too.
The Alexandria Fire Department has long struggled for resources to perform its baseline daily operations, let alone protecting a potential terrorist target and the surrounding residential neighborhood. A lack of funding has meant a lack manpower and equipment, creating challenges for the AFDs publics safety mission, according to department reports. Two-alarm fires become four-alarm fires and deficient training equipment puts emergency responders at a higher risk of death, said Fire Chief Adam Thiel.
Those challenges are salient in any situation, said Thiel, who did not speak specifically to the DoD office buildings. People need to be assured that our firefighters and medics will absolutely risk their lives to do everything possible with what they have, regardless of any limitations, to make things work.
The AFD has a very good working relationship with the Pentagon Protection Agency, the DoDs boots on the ground, Thiel said.
Euille doesnt expect a response from the White House for a few weeks not that hes asking for anything outrageous, he said.[The letter] is not asking the president to create a special panel or anything like that. Of course hes not directly involved, but this is under his administration, his watch, Euille said. Im just asking [the Defense Department] to be frank, honest and sincere and provide a more affirmative, statement that the city is protected.