Ten years ago, a couple of weeks from now, I emerged from a burning, shattered Pentagon to a scene of utter chaos in South Parking, jammed cell lines and what soon became a traffic jam bordering on the Apocalyptic.
Today, while much further to the south of DC, but actually closer to the quake’s epicenter, I emerged from our building to find – jammed cell lines (or no service altogether), and from all reports on the radio (old fashioned, over the air local FM radio) jammed Metro stations and the beginnings of another major league traffic jam from hell as substantial portions of the federal workforce in DC and Northern Va executed a self-imposed early leave well before OPM announced the same. The added challenge of older bridges in certain key locations (like the Nice bridge on 301) being closed for inspection added an exquisite degree of suffering for those who had little recourse but to wait hours until they were cleared for use. And so, with apologies to Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.
In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a substantial amount of “lessons learned” sessions at the federal, state and local level held across the three major constituencies that comprise the greater DC metropolitan area – and substantial federal monies that followed in an effort to fix things like an inability for local first responders from one county to talk with another jurisdiction. Yet for all the communications improvements, all the regional crisis centers, all the talk about how things have improved since 9/11 there remains one fundamental flaw – the fact that whether it is on short notice like today or on a more measured basis like a mid-work day blizzard, there is little that has been done to provide the necessary capacity in our road/rail infrastructure to ensure an orderly evacuation of the capitol region. Even something as simple as lifting HOV restrictions and opening a couple of additional lanes of traffic did little to unjam the mess. On a larger scale and on both sides of the Potomac, the environmentalists and NIMBY-ists continue to fight and thwart any additional crossings or a beltway bypass that would lessen the volume of POV and truck traffic “passing through” on this, the main North-South corridor on the east coast. Oh, but there is enough money and impetus to build toll roads – High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on the Beltway. It is one of the reasons why we have moved well into the rural part of the area and why, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped for the job at Dahlgren, where despite a much longer commute, I don’t have to face the traffic – normal or otherwise.
And how did we fare? OK – after a fashion. Our building, built for another time and another mission (hardened for EMP and a certain overpressure) swayed like a (wait for it) drunken lawyer, which in another scenario, would have permitted execution of the mission after the initial strike before certain destruction in follow on waves. A bit disconcerting for all inside but it served to prompt folks to get out of the building in a hasty manner – to find no cell service and our only, immediate source of information from that good ol’ FM car radio.
Despite all the promised infrastructure upgrades.
Just like ten years ago.