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LOC Unveils Revised Evacuation Plan

Library of Congress officials convened a town hall-style meeting Tuesday to address many of the safety concerns that LOC union officials recently asked the Office of Compliance to investigate in the aftermath of the May 11 evacuation of the Capitol campus.

Officials announced two major changes to the Library’s non-fire evacuation plan: establishing the use of elevators to evacuate mobility-impaired employees and the creation of a new evacuation assembly area in a public location farther away from the LOC complex.

Both issues were among the slew of concerns cited by the four unions that represent Library employees in a May 25 complaint, which requested that the OOC conduct a health and safety review of the LOC’s emergency plans.

Although he could not comment on the status of the review request, OOC Director of Communications Jonathan Orr said Tuesday that “it is ongoing and it is a high priority.”

According to the complaint, during the May 11 evacuation — which occurred when a Cessna aircraft entered restricted airspace around Washington, D.C. — Library of Congress Police instructed “volunteer disability assistants” to evacuate the building about 10 minutes after alarms began to sound, essentially abandoning disabled employees.

In the James Madison Building, some disabled employees attempted to navigate stairways, and another group eventually exited the facility with the assistance of an Architect of the Capitol employee who was able to provide elevator access keys.

Elizabeth Pugh, the Library’s general counsel, said Tuesday that during the evacuation “a decision was made to evacuate the building as quickly as possible,” and to do that, fire alarms were pulled, automatically sending elevators to the exit levels and taking them out of use.

“We have learned from that situation, and our emergency personnel and staff are now trained to be able to use an override key so that in a situation of a non-fire emergency they would be able to use the elevators” to evacuate disabled staff, who may include handicapped persons as well as those with medical conditions such as heart disease or asthma or those with limited mobility that makes descending or climbing stairs difficult, she said.

Speaking about the new plan, Buck Buchanan, special assistant in the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that in a non-fire emergency, two elevators would be designated in the Madison Building and one each in the Jefferson and Adams buildings for evacuating mobility-impaired employees.

“The Library’s emergency response program is progressing forward,” Library of Congress Professional Guild President Saul Schniderman said after Tuesday’s meeting. “But as the emergency response progresses, our main concern is the evacuation of the Library’s disabled staff. … We think that in order for elevators to be used in an emergency, in order for it to be done safely, it must be done by trained police officers and firefighters, not by volunteers.”

The other main proposal outlined at yesterday’s meeting was the creation of one large assembly area for all employees that would be farther away from the Library complex than the primary and secondary assembly areas already in place for fire emergencies.

“Typically the normal assembly areas are not appropriate for an inbound aircraft threat,” explained Capitol Police Assistant Chief James Rohan, who also addressed Library employees. “We’re looking at very far-out assembly areas for these kinds of events. … If the Capitol is the 10 ring on a target, so to speak, then the office buildings and Library are somewhere in the seven, eight and nine rings.”

Buchanan said that in a non-fire emergency the Library’s “floor wardens” and Library Police would send all staff to one area several blocks south of the Library buildings, where a command and control center as well as necessary medical facilities would be established.

But, during the question and answer period of the meeting, some audience members wondered if assembling all of the Library’s staff in one large location presented more of a target for would-be terrorists.

OSEP Director Kenneth Lopez acknowledged the concern and explained that the evacuation plan will continue to be modified and improved in the weeks and months to come.

“We’re very concerned too about dispersing people, so what you saw here was a concept of moving people” southward and away from the building, he said. “Dispersal is key, and that is what we’ll refine as we go through this ongoing plan.”

Some of the other pending and ongoing initiatives Lopez discussed at the meeting were the installation of an updated public address system for the Library, which is scheduled to be in place by 2006, and the need for more evacuation drills for the entire LOC complex.

“We’ve done individual buildings but we’re going to do very soon a Library-wide evacuation,” Lopez said.

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