Pentagon lessons apply to Hawaii
for attack, but more
remains to be done
Three years after Sept. 11, 2001, Hawaii's law enforcement, port and public health officials say they are focused on terrorism prevention and have never been so prepared for an attack.
But they stress there is a lot more to do.
Officials are still struggling with how to heighten security around the perimeter of the state's airports.
And if an attack were to occur today, first responders would not be able to communicate on a common radio frequency. Instead, they would use cell phones to coordinate efforts.
"It's a constant, ongoing thing," said state Civil Defense spokesman Ray Lovell. "We have to fit it (terrorism) into our framework, just like we fit in tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes."
Representatives from several local, state and federal agencies say they have worked to include terrorism preparedness and prevention into their planning and budgets. They also say they are doing all they can with limited resources.
At the FBI's Honolulu office, agents have shifted their attention from bank robberies and drugs to counterterrorism and intelligence gathering.
Charles Goodwin, Honolulu's special agent-in-charge, said funds have followed the new focus, and more money is being funneled into terrorism prevention efforts rather than traditional crime investigations.
"We obviously had to take it (the money) from somewhere," Goodwin said. "In essence, we instituted a new culture in the organization."
Other agencies also changed priorities. Oahu Civil Defense revamped its Emergency Operating Center in Honolulu and drafted a terrorism preparedness plan. State Department of Health officials prepared for a bioterrorist attack with a series of exercises, the most recent of which was last month.
And state Civil Defense officials created the Hawaii Homeland Security Advisory System, a color-coded system to indicate the threat of terrorist attack in the islands. The state now stands at yellow, meaning a "significant risk of terrorist attacks."
Officials recognize that there are still holes in security. There have been three significant security breaches at the state's airports during the last year, none of which resulted in serious injury.
Late last month, a teenager rammed a sports car through a locked perimeter gate at Honolulu Airport's general aviation area and drove onto airport grounds. In March a Maui man drove a sport utility vehicle into the Kahului Airport terminal and set the vehicle ablaze. Seven months earlier, a Lihue man jumped a Lihue Airport fence, damaged a plane with a rock and threatened several airline employees with a knife.
Transportation Department Scott Ishikawa said officials have learned about improving security from the three incidents.
Meanwhile, Ishikawa said, it has been challenging to keep the interior of Hawaii's airports secure while also trying to minimize inconvenience to passengers.
At one point in 2002, waits in security lanes to get into Honolulu Airport's passenger terminal area lasted up to 90 minutes. Ishikawa said lanes were added to decrease the lines, and six more will open next month.
Sydney Hayakawa, Hawaii's Transportation Security Administration director, also said security officials have had to keep up to date with the newest screening equipment. And, they have also had to stay on top of the latest terrorism tactics.
"I think the most important word for us is to remain flexible," he added.
On top of security concerns, officials are trying to raise terrorism preparedness.
Lovell said a common radio system for first responders is being developed, but it will be at least a year before it is in place.
"There are some short-term measures that we're using, like cell phones with walkie-talkie features," he said.
Hirai said that one of the most important results of the 2001 attacks is that agencies "are working closer together" and synchronizing their disaster preparedness and response.
"The buzzword is 'interoperability' between agencies," said Fire Department Capt. Emmit Kane. "Since Sept. 11 that's improved tremendously. There's a lot more cooperation and communication and shared resources."
Eye on safety
Here are some changes that organizations have instituted since 9/11:
>> On July 1 the Coast Guard adopted a new set of security requirements, which include boarding every foreign-flagged vessel on its first visit to a U.S. port. Other changes include tracking vessels from foreign ports that do not comply with international security code.
>> The Transportation Security Administration was created in November 2001, federalizing security screening procedures at the state's airports.
>> State Civil Defense has put together an urban search and rescue team whose members have been trained to get to injured people in a collapsed building. Earlier, a team from the mainland would have had to be brought in.
BACK TO TOP
apply to Hawaii
Craig Whelden was a two-star Army general on Sept. 11, 2001, attending a military conference at the Double Tree Hotel at Crystal City across from the Pentagon.
At that time, he was deputy commander of the U.S. Army Pacific and was in a meeting when he got word of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
"We were trying to get a television into the room to follow the events taking shape in New York when a woman ran in to tell us that there had been an explosion over at the Pentagon less than a quarter-mile from where we were meeting," said Whelden, 52, in a phone interview from his home in Florida.
"We all ran outside to see a huge black plume of smoke," he said, adding that his first instinct was to call his wife in Hawaii "to let her know that I was all right ... because she thought that I was in the Pentagon.
"I found my cell phone couldn't connect, so I ran up to my hotel room where I finally got through. It was 4 a.m. in Hawaii and 10 a.m. on the East Coast.
"As I was relaying the events of the moment to my wife, I found out later that the governor of Hawaii had not yet been notified."
Whelden, who retired in January after 30 years of service, went to the Pentagon crash site and discovered that although the military, police, fire, rescue and the FBI personnel were working, "it became quite evident that there was no central point for coordination."
Firemen were trying to put out the fires, Whelden said. Policemen were trying to secure the area. Medical teams were establishing triage operations while identifying locations for a temporary morgue. The FBI was in charge of the crime scene.
Eventually, Whelden and another senior Army officer, Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne, established a command-and-control cell using the communications equipment in a Humvee from the Third Infantry Regiment from nearby Fort Meyer.
"We placed their command vehicle in the center of the field facing the hole in the Pentagon," Whelden said, "and gave each of the responding agencies an Army liaison officer with a radio."
The liaison's job was to communicate whatever fire, law enforcement, medical or search and rescue teams needed to the command post, which would then relay the request to the proper agency in the District of Columbia.
"By nightfall the field in front of the crash site looked like a miniature city," he said. "The Army, along with other agencies, provided food, water, fuel, generators, lights, cabling and manpower to a multiagency effort."
American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into a Pentagon wing at 9:43 a.m. three years ago, killing 124 and injuring 75.
Whelden said in the aftermath, Hawaii learned that it had challenges in intelligence, analysis and crisis response, just like the rest of the country.
"My experience at the Pentagon that day," Whelden added, "was that there was no central place -- no communication linkage -- where people could share intelligence and work together seamlessly.
"One of the lessons I brought back was that if such an event like that happened in Hawaii, we would need a process to respond quickly."
Immediately after 9/11, Whelden said Adm. Dennis Blair, then Pacific Forces commander, tasked U.S. Army Pacific to be the military's link to civilian emergency agencies, which resulted in the creation of the joint rear-area coordination.
"One of the most critical elements," Whelden said, "is a seamless information-sharing system to close the gap between law enforcement and the gathering and analyzing of intelligence.
"You can't wait for an incident to occur. ... The keystone is prevention. We can practice responding to an emergency, but I would rather prevent something from happening rather than just responding."
In April that agency was replaced by the Joint Task Force Homeland Defense, which is staffed around the clock by a 42-member staff from all services, according to Lt. Col. Michael Bender, Fort Shafter's chemical, biological, nuclear and high-yield explosives chief.
As the threat level rises, so does the number of staff members, getting as high as 132.
Besides responding to threats from terrorist and other man-made emergencies, the new agency also handles natural hazards and disasters such as typhoons and hurricanes and includes the Pacific islands of Guam, Palaau, American Samoa and the Marshall Islands, Bender said.