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House Offices Get Emergency Communication System

House offices this week received communications boxes that will be used to notify staffers and Members in the event of an emergency.

The devices are part of a campuswide network that will act as a makeshift public address system. Senate offices have already received the boxes.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Congressional officials have spoken of a need to systematically communicate with the tens of thousands of people who work on the Hill.

“Currently, the Capitol does not maintain a complex-wide emergency notification system capable of providing individualized or unique instructions to all personnel,” wrote Curt Coughlin, the director of the House Office of Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Operations, in a letter to Members and staff.

In the interim, he said, this system will be used as a “stop-gap measure.”

The devices — small enough to fit unobtrusively on a desk — are manufactured by Motorola.

Successfully tested in a pilot program, the network now will be fully deployed as a notification system for the entire campus.

The auxiliary emergency communications system — dubbed the Annunciator — are being installed by the OEPPO in coordination with the House Administration Committee. A Motorola technician and Capitol Police officer comprise each installation team.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has talked about the difficulty of getting out various threat information in the absence of such a system.

“If we were building the Capitol from the ground up, there would be an easy solution, but you’re trying to integrate technology into a building where you don’t want to tear into the walls,” he said in an interview last year.

Members of both chambers complained after Sept. 11, 2001, that they didn’t receive information at critical junctures about where they should go and whether the Capitol was being evacuated.

But the House and Senate have employed somewhat different approaches to emergency preparedness.

House leaders created the OEPPO as part of the more than $630 million in emergency spending directed to Capitol security via post-Sept. 11 supplemental appropriations. The legislation authorizing the office also called for the creation of a Continuity of Operations Board, consisting of the House officers and other members of the post-Sept. 11 House Operations Recovery Team. The board is chaired by Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl.

For the Senate, Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt created an assistant Sergeant-at-Arms for security and emergency preparedness. Sam Kindred, who formerly worked for the Defense Department, was hired for the post.

“As we saw on September 11th and the subsequent anthrax attacks on the Capitol complex itself, communication is absolutely critical in an emergency, and this new system is a very important step in the continued effort to strengthen the security and communications infrastructure of the Capitol complex,” House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Our emergency and security personnel have been working day and night towards this goal and they should be commended for their good work, which too often goes unnoticed by many.”

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