Reacting to New Risks

Buildings Neighboring Capitol Evaluate Security, Procedures

Posted February 28, 2003 at 4:40pm

Many of the privately owned office buildings bordering the Capitol complex have prepared emergency plans to cope with possible terrorist attacks and increased security measures in the face of looming U.S. military action against Iraq.

Management companies in several of the office buildings, whose tenants include lobbying associations, news organizations or satellite offices for state governments, issued memorandums describing specific action that will be taken to deal with biological or chemical attacks, such as shutting down air conditioning and heating ventilation systems, or locking down the building.

Brandywine Construction & Management Inc., which operates an office building at 122 C St. NW, issued a letter to tenants in mid-February.

The document included instructions for calling 911 for additional information during an emergency, said Georgian Howell, manager of the Congressional contact program at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Co., which has offices in the building.

Although the memo outlined operations for building-wide systems such as ventilation, Howell said general security issues will be under the purview of tenants.

“It is up to each individual office to handle how we see fit what we’ll be doing as far as security goes,” Howell said. Other tenants in the building include Tyco International Inc., the National Pork Producers Council, the Committee for Education Funding and the National Committee for an Effective Congress.

Some individual offices are also electing to create emergency supply kits including bottled water, blankets, flash lights and first-aid supplies, as well as a change of clothing.

“We as an office are going to be meeting with the staff and dividing up materials that each person will bring in,” Howell said.

“We are also going to suggest each person bring in a three-day supply of any medicine,” she added.

Robert Gilbert of the Committee for Education Funding, another organization with offices in the building, said that in addition to following basic precautions regarding food and supplies, his office had updated its emergency contact information and created an emergency contact tree. Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Gilbert also noted that the committee had decided to take out “event terrorism insurance” for its annual gala, which is held off the premises.

An official for Brandywine Management did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

On the Northeast side of the Capitol complex at 101 Constitution Ave., building management recently implemented a security plan — devised by property manager Shawn Kyle, the Lincoln Property Security Task Force, Barry Security, and the building’s owner, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America. The plan, which had been in the works for the past six months, includes adding additional guards and new surveillance cameras, introducing checkpoints that can be entered only with access cards, and screening all visitors, couriers, as well as vehicles entering the garage.

While Kyle said no specific threats had been directed to the building, he noted that the Capitol Hill location alone was a good reason to take any heightened terrorism alerts “very seriously.”

Some offices have also sought the assistance of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police departments in creating emergency plans.

“The majority of calls we get in here are people just asking for safety tips, precautionary tips, [or] measures they can take,” said Sgt. Joe Gentile, an MPD spokesman.

MPD officials typically direct building owners or managers to a 25-page presentation the department has created on crisis planning, but will also arrange meetings with heads of the department’s seven districts.

“Each district commander is to host different meetings with different groups in their particular districts to talk about safety tips in event of a situation that may occur, such as a terrorist attack,” Gentile said.

If a specific building is named in a threat, MPD officials will give notice to a building’s owner and increase patrols near the building. Depending on the type of threat, officers may also use additional resources, such as dogs trained in bomb detection.

The building’s owner or manager “makes a determination from there as to the type of security he or she is going to implement in the building and, of course, it depends on the type of threat, too,” Gentile said.

Last week, The Washington Post reported two private buildings — one of which Roll Call has identified as the Hall of States — as well as a Senate office building had been named as a possible target for an attack.

Following the report, property managers for the Hall of States contacted the FBI to verify the information. However, the FBI reaffirmed previous assertions that it had not received any specific threats, according to a source affiliated with the building. And last week tenants received a memo from management confirming the visit, noting that the visit had lasted less than five minutes and that it was concluded once the FBI received a list of current tenants.

FBI officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment.