D.C. Deputy Mayor Emphasizes the Importance of "Hometown Security" at RAND Seminar

Margret Nedelkoff Kellems
(courtesy of the Government of
the District of Columbia)

Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice of the District of Columbia, uses the phrase "Hometown Security" to describe her job. She shared her experiences of September 11th and discussed the District's ongoing security initiatives at a randesq.* seminar hosted by RAND's Arroyo Center at RAND's Washington office on June 3, 2002. Serving as Deputy Mayor since September 2000, Kellems is responsible for supporting, coordinating, and overseeing the Metropolitan Police Department, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Corrections, Emergency Management Agency, and the Chief Medical Examiner. She also serves as the District's primary liaison to criminal justice and law enforcement agencies. Kellems' experience exemplifies the importance of coordination between local and federal emergency responders during a major emergency.

On the morning of September 11th, Kellems was participating in a conference call at home when she first saw footage of the terrorist attacks on television. After checking in with her husband, who works at the Pentagon, she raced downtown to the Joint-Operations Command Center (JOCC). En route she learned that the Pentagon had been hit. The newly built JOCC was still two weeks from completion when it became the hub for Washington, D.C.'s disaster response team. Since cell phone and LAN lines were largely inoperable, the police, city administrators, fire department, city hall, emergency responders, and other agencies communicated via text pager and email, working vigorously to separate fact from fiction and establish order.

A major coordination problem soon confronted Kellems and her staff: thirty-two independent law enforcement agencies in the District used their authority to close metro stations and shut down streets without sharing this information with the District government. Also, the federal government shut down and sent all employees home but did not inform the command center. Bridges were closed, complicating the mass exodus out of the city that resulted. Kellems and crew stepped in and deployed officers to 120 vital intersections. They switched traffic signals to rush hour settings to facilitate the evacuation. D.C. firefighters mobilized on the 14th Street bridge, waiting for the first call for mutual aid from Arlington, while Maryland firefighters were poised at the border to backfill for the District. While there have been criticisms, Kellems believes they did the best job possible given the circumstances. She noted that systems and plans created for Y2K helped significantly.

Since that day, her office has been in overdrive, preparing for the worst that, as she noted, "we all hope never comes." She and her colleagues have devised a series of functionally organized plans and printed emergency action pocket guides that all officials carry with them. These guides list all essential information and phone numbers, as well as a checklist of the first things that need to be done in an emergency scenario. They have acquired protective gear for first responders, and various modes of communication, including satellite phones, for personnel. Symptomology surveillance has been instituted at area hospitals, with daily reports compiled into a central source, to monitor potential biohazard infection. Washington, Virginia, and Maryland have begun to coordinate on many issues, including evacuation and response plans for chemical or bio-terrorism. All entities have conducted extensive exercises and joint exercises simulating a variety of attacks and the District's response.

Kellems mentioned her pride at how much the office has accomplished in the past nine months. She encouraged residents in the area to visit www.washingtondc.gov to learn about emergency preparedness in the District. The website also features a Family Preparedness Guide as a resource to help citizens create their own emergency plan.

*randesq. is a brown bag seminar series that features leading practitioners, scholars and government counsels who offer insights on a variety of legal topics of current interest. The goal of the seminar series is to expand horizons by bringing in legal perspectives related to RAND's research interests. Previous randesq. speakers have included The Hon. Laurence H. Silberman, Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Professor Steve Goldberg of Georgetown University Law Center, Charles Blanchard, former Army General Counsel, Edwin Williamson, former State Department Legal Advisor, John P. Elwood of the Department of Justice, and others.