Use the tunnels when walking to votes. Avoid predictable routes outside when jogging. Get rid of your vanity license plates. Create an emergency action plan with your own family.
This was the advice House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer gave to House Members on Wednesday. The two requested on Tuesday the opportunity to brief the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference and the meetings were immediately set up for the following day, aides said.
In an interview, Gainer said he tried to convey that the Capitol Police are preparing for the possibility of terrorism while remaining “calm, cool and collected about terror.”
“There really has to be a little love and trust,” he said of the relationship between Members and the Capitol Police.
He also said that disseminating information about the complex’s efforts to thwart an attack make the Capitol a hard, rather than a soft, target.
“We’re trying to demonstrate that,” he said. “The difficulty is to make it hard enough for frightening away a terrorist, but not so hard that you frighten away the tourists who come to watch how laws are made.”
In the briefing, Gainer talked about preventive measures Members can take so as not to draw attention to themselves, said aides who were present.
Although Gainer stressed that there was no specific intelligence to suggest that Members of Congress were targets for assassination or kidnapping, he outlined steps they could — and should — take to protect themselves.
“There have been indications that al
Qaeda would be interested in political or government figures,” a Democratic leadership aide said Members were told.
The state-issued vanity license plates that adorn many cars are one of the more glaring examples of Members unnecessarily drawing attention to themselves, they were told in the briefings. The plates advertise that a Member or staffer is in the car — and even sometimes specify the district the Member represents — and should be removed, Gainer said.
The “H” plates Members use to gain access to parking facilities should also not be continually displayed in the vehicles, Gainer and Livingood indicated.
Additionally, Members were told to make sure their cars are secure if they are leaving them in the House parking lot overnight.
Addressing what has been a long-standing problem for the Capitol Police, Members were strongly encouraged to have visitors accompanying them into the Capitol and office buildings to go through the metal detectors. Although this problem is nothing new, the briefing was used as an opportunity to renew the pleas for Members not to allow their guests to bypass the screening procedures. The concern is that stragglers could intermingle themselves with a Member’s group and bypass security.
Members donning their pins are allowed to bypass the metal detectors, but even this practice is often abused, as they don’t always wear their lapel pins.
The two men also renewed their plea for Members to establish an individualized evacuation plan for their offices. Such plans, along with staffer-designees in each office to help implement them, were recommended for offices even before the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but few offices had one until recently. Last summer the Office of Compliance general counsel’s office conducted inspections of staffers’ awareness of exit routes and the existence of an emergency coordinator in each office.
“If you don’t have a plan in place, you should get a plan in place” was the message, the leadership aide said. “And meetings need to be a little better attended.”
Members were told that only about 50 percent of the designated emergency coordinators have shown up for past meetings, in which aides were made aware of evacuation routes and other emergency contingency plans.
As for their own personal emergency plans, Members were encouraged to let their families know their whereabouts and keep a list of key phone numbers on them at all times. Cards were passed out by the Sergeant-at-Arms at the end of the meeting with emergency contact numbers, according to the leadership aide.
Gainer and Livingood also encouraged Members to use the tunnels to travel between the House office buildings and the Capitol, especially during their multiple daily pilgrimages for votes when the House is in session, the aide said.
“It’s no rocket science on all of these fronts,” the leadership aide said, citing the mass migration during roll calls and the relative vulnerability of walking across Independence Avenue.
As an additional measure, Members who spend time outside were encouraged to take different routes every day and avoid predictable patters. This was specifically directed at walkers and joggers.
Emphasizing that the Capitol Police, too, would be keeping their patterns unpredictable, Gainer and Livingood told the group that officers would be positioned differently on the weekends.
And the police are also better armed than before. The .40-millimeter handguns they routinely carry have been augmented with shotguns and semiautomatic weapons. Gainer said officers were carrying G-36 long rifles.
“We also have our [Containment Emergency Response Team] out today deployed in their full battle gear with their MP5s,” Gainer said, referring to submachine guns. “Normally those men are out and about in nondescript vehicles.” Some are still patrolling in unmarked cars.
Capitol Police officers have also been wearing the Quick 2000 Escape Hoods on their belts. “They were directed to do that,” Gainer said. “It’s really because of going to orange [terror threat] level and the fear that the terrorists have access or may want to use chemical, biological or radiological weapons.”
Additional training sessions on how to use the devices were held for staffers earlier this week.
Twenty-five-thousand hoods were purchased at about $100 apiece with money appropriated after Sept. 11, 2001, to protect Members, staff and visitors. Masks are stocked in every office and in stations run by the Capitol Police throughout the complex. They are designed to provide a window of time — from minutes to an hour, depending on conditions — to escape an area contaminated with a biological or chemical agent.
Thousands of House and Senate staffers attended training sessions put on last year by the two chambers’ Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Police. A refresher course was held on Monday morning in the Cannon Caucus Room for those staffers, and Gainer demonstrated the mask’s use at their briefings to remind Members how to put them on. A similar refresher is scheduled for Senate staffers at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. next Tuesday in Room 902 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
According to House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), letters will be going out to House Members soon with more detailed instructions. And the leadership aide said there could be additional security briefings for Members in the coming weeks.
Asked if the National Guard would be asked to help secure Capitol Hill much like they did in the months after Sept. 11, Ney said there has been no decision, although a war with Iraq could complicate such a move, as many of those same troops could be called into active duty.
“Would we rule out the Guard?” Ney said. “No.”
Also on hand at the meetings was a representative from the company that manufactures the Annunciator devices put in office throughout the Capitol complex this month. Members were told that emergency instructions would be disseminated through that network.
Aides present said Members didn’t ask any questions after the briefings.
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police said no briefings have been scheduled with Senators yet.
“There’s none that we’re aware of at this time,” Jessica Gissubel said.
Erin P. Billings and Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.