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York Times article (copy below)
Ridge Guides Tour of New
Situation Room to Coordinate Action in Crises
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, May 8 — If foreign or domestic terrorists strike the
United States again, Tom Ridge and his crisis coordinators at the
Office of Homeland Security now have a situation room of their
own, a decidedly medium-tech operation of ordinary telephones,
flat-screen television sets and off-the-shelf computers.
It is a place rich in history. In World War II, code breakers
labored in the same buildings to crack Germany's secrets. But
today the Threat Monitoring Center and its related areas seem
somewhat less than the kind of hardened bunker designed to survive
an attack on Washington. It occupies the first and second floors
of an aging building guarded by a mix of the Navy police and hired
officers from Wackenhut, the company from Florida that also guards
nuclear power plants, prisoners and corporate executives.
Mr. Ridge, whose authority has been questioned and whose
organization has been faulted for coordinating everything but
controlling nothing, gave reporters a tour of the center this
morning, before a veil of secrecy falls over it.
He showed off conference rooms where live television hookups will
allow the Pentagon, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Immigration and
Naturalization Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency
and other agencies to talk to one another, the kind of
coordination that never quite came together on Sept. 11.
"This is a key part of our national strategy," Mr. Ridge said,
holding court in the monitoring and coordination center. "We
didn't realize it, but we needed something like this."
But if Hollywood is looking for an updated version of the White
House Situation Room, the Pentagon's secure Tank or the F.B.I.
Operations Center, they will not find it here.
The television monitors this morning were tuned to CNN, Fox News
and "Divorce Court," until one of Mr. Ridge's aides turned off the
marital discord. Based on Mr. Ridge's description, communications
with local officials appear largely dependent on commercial
telephone service, which jammed on Sept. 11 in New York and
But in ordinary times, that may be enough. Mr. Ridge hopes that
most of his staff of 100 or so officials, borrowed from other
agencies, will be based here while he keeps a small staff at the
If a crisis should erupt, there is reason to question whether the
new center could keep operating. Unlike the White House Situation
Room, it is not underground. For reasons they would not discuss —
but that seem mostly to have to do with nearness to official
Washington — Mr. Ridge's staff members decided not to place the
center well away from the capital. It is 4.3 miles from the White
Is that not uncomfortably close, Mr. Ridge was asked, if a "dirty
bomb" exploded near the White House or biological attacks hit the
"We needed to get up and get moving," he said. "And this is what
we have for the time being."
Outside experts say it may be just be far enough from downtown to
keep running in case of a nuclear attack. The Wisconsin Project
for Nuclear Arms calculates that a medium-size nuclear device
detonated near the Mall would cause extensive damage and radiation
downtown, where the White House, Federal Bureau of Investigation
and State Department crisis centers are situated.
But everything north of the vice president's residence, three
miles away, would most likely survive, and Mr. Ridge's new center
is just beyond that radius. A "dirty bomb," a crude device that
releases radiological material, would presumably damage just a few
Mr. Ridge said his goal was simply to ensure that federal fiefs
talk to one another in times of calm and, certainly, in times of
crisis. On Sept. 11 and again as anthrax moved through the mail,
the government had difficulty gathering experts and had problems
In quieter times, Mr. Ridge said, the officials "will do what the
president asked us to do, assess the threats we face."