'); //--> Back to Boston.com homepage Arts | Entertainment Boston Globe Online Cars.com BostonWorks Real Estate Boston.com Sports digitalMass Travel
Back home
Sept. 11: One year after

Today's date
Under attack
Globe and Boston.com coverage from September 11, 2001

Washington

While the nation's capital and financial center are forever changed, their residents find strength to go forward

By Mary Leonard, Globe Staff, 9/10/2002

   
'We can't let our guard down'
Peter LaPorte, who directs the District of Columbia's Emergency Management Agency, has set a goal to divide the city into 39 neighborhood clusters, each with its own emergency plan. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)


New missions
In response to 9/11, Alex Joel decided to join the CIA, while his wife, Hilary, helped to develop emergency-preparedness tool kits for small and medium-size organizations. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)


The image of a passenger jet plowing into the Pentagon never appeared on television. But the fiery terrorist attack on a symbol of strength seared the Washington psyche, and a year after Sept. 11, fear lingers over the federal city like the smoke that billowed from the disaster site for days.

Washington is a target. This sudden fact of life - the sense that it's only a matter of time before they strike here

again - is so profound that the government was transformed overnight into a foreign and domestic war machine, and so personal that families have packed survival kits, plotted evacuation routes, and pondered how to make life more meaningful.

''This is the impact zone,'' said Peter LaPorte, who came from Boston three years ago to direct the District of Columbia's Emergency Management Agency. ''The threat hasn't gone down. We know that we are a target, and each day that goes by, we're lucky.''

Almost 70 percent of Washingtonians expect a future terrorist attack where they live or work, a Pew Research Center poll indicated last week.

Tomorrow, it will be an uneasy and changed community that looks on as President Bush stands at the Pentagon crash site to remember the 189 victims who died there.

Across all strata of this unique, and uniquely American, city, people are adapting to the new reality: the corporate lawyer who quit his job and joined the CIA; the grief counselor who set up a support group for traumatized flight attendants; the lobbyist who lost his easy access to Capitol Hill; the postal clerk who waits nervously to return to the mail-processing plant in Northeast Washington where two co-workers died from inhalation anthrax.

Terrorism specialist L. Paul Bremer opened a crisis-consulting firm in January. Bremer, who co-chaired a federal commission in 2000 that predicted there could be a Sept. 11-type attack, warns his corporate clients that future attacks are sure to come, and that they should be prepared.

''Even during the Blitz of London in World War II, people went about their lives,'' Bremer said. ''People are hugely resilient, and that's healthy. I'm not concerned about our underlying fortitude.''

Indeed, the city's resolve and vital signs seem remarkably strong. Tourism is almost back to pre-Sept. 11 levels, and George Washington University, a stone's throw from the White House, had a record 17,000 applications to its freshman class. Attendance hit all-time highs this spring for professional sports teams (helped no doubt by Michael Jordan's return to play for the Washington Wizards).

The biggest story in the city is whether Mayor Anthony Williams will prevail in today's primary as a write-in candidate for reelection. Defense and homeland-security spending is starting to create jobs, and the real-estate market for homes is red hot.

The post-Sept. 11 run on gas masks at Ranger Surplus stores is over, but the business of disaster preparedness has become a preoccupation. The District of Columbia Medical Society has set up a database of 600 doctors who would respond in an emergency. The Bush administration has a plan to evacuate the region's 350,000 federal workers within 15 minutes of a terrorist attack or credible threat. The Federal Emergency Management Agency canceled its contract to move its 1,000-person Washington staff into a new waterfront building that, after Sept. 11, looked too vulnerable.

The federal government's mobilization to protect the city and nation - military deployments to Afghanistan, broad new authorities for the FBI and CIA, the creation of the Office of Homeland Security, and billions of dollars spent for first responders and public health - was swift and unprecedented. It permeated every layer of this company town, elevating the president, silencing his political opponents, isolating lobbyists, and leaving federal workers outside homeland defense to wonder whether their functions were still important.

Physical signs of security abound. Commuters navigate new traffic patterns around the White House and Capitol Hill. Pedestrians skirt the big and now ubiquitous concrete flowerpots barricading downtown buildings. Frequent fliers prepare for the no-toilet rule in effect 30 minutes in and out of Reagan National Airport. Tourists pass through metal detectors at public museums and need tickets to visit the Capitol. Congressional secretaries get chapped hands from opening dry, irradiated mail.

Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, received Christmas gifts this summer that the postal service rerouted after an anthrax-laced letter was sent in October to Senate majority leader Thomas Daschle, an attack that closed the Hart Senate Office Building and put 30,000 on antibiotics. Terry Hartle, longtime lobbyist for the American Council on Education, now goes through two metal detectors and puts his briefcase in a locker when he calls on members of Congress.

The cadence that picked up at the White House after Sept. 11 has not diminished, says Andrew Card, Bush's chief of staff. The lights burn late in a homeland security office that didn't exist before the terrorist attacks, and secret bunkers outside Washington are stocked and ready for an executive branch-in-exile in the event of a catastrophic attack. Card says the president's Homeland Security Council ''never sleeps. It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.''

For the majority of people, the anxiety spikes unexpectedly: when sirens wail, a fighter jet rumbles overhead, or an aircraft looks a little off course; when Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a grave but maddeningly vague terrorist alert; or when a map in the Washington Post shows how much radiation would reach your neighborhood if a dirty bomb were detonated downtown.

The Rev. Jim Wallis has lived among street gangs and drug dealers in Washington since 1975, but the social activist never has felt so insecure. ''When I travel - and now never for more than one night away - I am aware that I am leaving my family 20 blocks from the White House and atop a terrorist target,'' Wallis said. ''It's learning to live in a new `normal,' whatever that means.''

The risks are more urgent and palpable for LaPorte, who still gets several anthrax false alarms each day on his two-way pager. On Sept. 11, he was at an emergency managers' meeting in Big Sky, Mont., watching helplessly as panic, confusion, and a communications meltdown gridlocked the city after the Pentagon was hit and rumors flew that the State Department, the White House, the Capitol were next.

LaPorte's goal for the year is to divide the district into 39 neighborhood clusters, each with its own emergency plan, shelters, and trained team of volunteers. He is in talks with the Pentagon to provide military personnel and equipment to handle mass destruction and casualties or impose a quarantine.

Every week, LaPorte travels from church basements to community centers, spreading the gospel of preparedness. The city's emergency agency has done its part since Sept. 11, he says, drawing up a new District response plan, improving coordination with surrounding states and the federal government, spending $20 million - more than five times last year's budget - on a high-tech command center, adding bomb gear, decontaminants, new evacuation-route signs, an antibiotics stockpile, two-way radios for all school principals, and mailing disaster guides, printed in nine languages plus Braille, to every home.

''We can't let our guard down,'' said LaPorte, who ran the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency from 1996 to 1999. ''We have to be the most prepared jurisdiction in the country.''

Washingtonians have processed that call for preparedness, and the meaning of Sept. 11, in collective and individual ways.

Hilary Joel found a mission after Sept. 11 through a preparedness initiative. With several members of the local Harvard Business School alumni club, Joel developed the first emergency-preparedness tool kits specifically for small and medium-size companies and organizations. This fall, the American Red Cross will start distributing the kits, which will instruct employers on what to have on hand (flashlights, glow-sticks, bottled water, and school phone numbers); how to handle a suspicious package; and where to go and what to take in an evacuation.

Joel's project is dedicated to Steven Glick, the secretary of her Harvard class, who died at the World Trade Center. ''The world's a different place now,'' said Joel, a part-time business consultant in suburban Bethesda, Md., and the mother of two.

Certainly security concerns have changed her family's world. This month her husband, Alex, is leaving a well-paying corporate job he loved to join the CIA. Alex said the thought never crossed his mind before Sept. 11, but the terrorist attacks shook him to his core, and the only positive, patriotic response he could conjure was public service.

''The CIA has committed, intelligent people doing some very interesting things to keep the country safe,'' said Joel, who specialized in information technology for the Marriott Corp. for seven years. ''It was a good fit for me, though now and then I scratch my head and wonder, what am I getting myself into? This is a dramatic change.''

Stephen Lamb, who lives a few blocks from the Capitol, has changed and embraced the cause of preparedness with enthusiasm. After Sept. 11 he rounded up his best friends and designed a detailed disaster plan of rendezvous sites in Washington, set up evacuation routes to a house in the Shenandoah Valley two hours away, and created a universal point of contact - his friend Bill in Cincinnati - if local telephone and cell phone service was overloaded. All the D-day instructions fit on a small card tucked in Lamb's wallet.

He also assembled a ''go-bag,'' containing maps, a transistor radio, a whistle, batteries, fire starters, first-aid kit, water purification tablets, a survival sleeping bag, and a four-day supply of food. Lamb, who works for Verizon Global Networks, also purchased a firefighter's smoke hood, a respirator, and a 12-gauge shotgun as insurance for ''when the lights go out.''

''Friends outside Washington say, `Whoa, isn't that kind of extreme?' '' said Lamb, who is 37 and single. ''I say, God knows what's going to happen here. I want to be in control. At least I can achieve a level of psychological comfort.''

Arlene Krohmal, executive director of CrisisLink in Arlington, Va., has been tending to the area's psychological needs since Sept. 11, when she and others from the crisis-intervention program took over the phones at the Virginia Hospital Center and began to field what grew to 6,000 calls from family and friends searching for Pentagon victims. CrisisLink now has a support group for local flight attendants experiencing post-traumatic stress, and its psychologists are closely monitoring a telephone hot line for suicide signs, which often surface about a year after a tragedy.

''It's the fresh reminders that make it so hard to reestablish equilibrium, even for high-functioning people,'' said Krohmal, whose husband insisted the couple go to the beach and skip the crowded Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall.

Craig Sincock, a chief warrant officer at the Pentagon, has been preparing for the anniversary of Sept. 11 with so much dread that he contacted the Department of Veterans' Affairs and asked it to provide victims' families ''safe houses'' - away from the media and the memorializing of the day. His wife, Cheryle Sincock, a secretary, was killed at the Pentagon, along with 124 other military and civilian personnel and 64 passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 77.

Sincock said he won't attend the Pentagon memorial service - he still has nightmares of working at the crash site on the day of the attack, hoping without hope to find his wife alive. But he is planning to gather with other survivor families the day after for a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery and to continue his volunteer work with Pentagon Angels, the Internet support group he founded.

''My life is different, but I know it can be good,'' Sincock said.

Good things are happening. The $500 million restoration of the Pentagon is finished and will meet its goal of returning workers to outer E Ring offices by tomorrow's anniversary. Ted Leonsis, America Online's vice chairman and a local sports mogul, said the military's can-do message was exactly what Washington's businesses, depressed by fear and uncertainty, needed to hear.

''Culturally, it helped our city for the Pentagon to say, `Let's do something about it, let's get back to work,' '' said Leonsis, who after Sept. 11 started getting e-mails from fans demanding that the Washington Capitals hockey team, which he owns, get rid of their black uniforms and return to red, white, and blue.

Another positive development is that in July, the National Capital Planning Commission gave the initial go-ahead to a master design for securing the city without sacrificing its beauty. Boston developer Richard Friedman, who has chaired the design task force since 2001 and has been pushing for its approval, said, ''In a perverse way, Sept. 11 helped our efforts,'' because the immediate and haphazard installation of ugly jersey barriers, pop-up bunkers, and chain-link fencing across the city was so shocking to city officials and preservationists.

Also on track is the cleanup of the Brentwood Road postal facility that had once processed most of Washington's mail but closed in late October, displacing workers and causing anxiety for neighbors in the working-class community.

Geraldine Taylor is full of anxiety. Since October, the Brentwood postal clerk has been hospitalized twice, once for an upper respiratory infection and once for severe diarrhea after 100 days on antibiotics. Some days, her joints are so swollen she can't walk, and she's exhausted by the two-hour commute and overnight shift at a postal facility in suburban Maryland, where she was transferred when Brentwood closed.

''Doctors claim my illness isn't related [to anthrax], but I think it is,'' said Taylor, who is afraid to go back to Brentwood but has no choice. ''You resign or retire.''

Merrily Messina has a choice: restart her event-planning business, which collapsed abruptly after Sept. 11, or return to her first career as a nurse. Something, she said, is calling her back to a public-health job that might make a difference, and do some good, in another person's life.

After 11 years at a frenetic Washington pace, Messina also slowed down and took stock of what was important. She flew to Canada and spent a week with her 83-year-old mother. She helped her daughter move into a new apartment. ''It actually feels good,'' said Messina, who is certain Sept. 11 brought on this soul-searching. ''There is a reason for everything.''

Mary Leonard can be reached at mleonard@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/10/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.





© Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

| Advertise | Contact us | Privacy policy |