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Victoria Clarke, Asst. Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
David Chu, Under Sec. of Def. for Personnel and Readiness
Meg Falk, Director of the Office of Family Policy
Maj. Gen. Jim Jackson, Cmdr of the Military District of Washington
Ed Plaugher, Arlington County Fire Chief
The Pentagon
Arlington, Virginia
September 12, 2001
10:16 A.M. EDT

CLARKE: Thanks very much, you all.

I've just got a brief statement and then a few people who have got some important information we want to get out today.

I'd just like to say a couple of things. First and foremost, the Department of Defense is open for business. We're here, we're operating, and we're functioning very well.

Our priorities this morning, today, are to care for the injured and the dead and their families; to work closely with the president and the national security team, to ensure the safety of the American people and our men and women in uniform around the world; and to determine who was responsible and what the course of action will be.

A couple of things I want to say up front. We do not have solid casualty numbers. I know this important. It's important to us. When we have numbers that we feel more confident about, we will get those numbers out, and at the right time.

The other thing I want to make very clear is, we are not going to be talking about military operations from this podium or elsewhere. We are not going to be talking about intelligence matters from this podium or elsewhere. It is not helpful.

And our primary focus this morning is to provide information about assistance to the families, about the search and rescue operations, and about the damage assessment on the building.

I'm joined today by our under secretary for Personnel/Readiness, David Chu; the Military District of Washington commander, Major General Jim Jackson; and the Arlington County fire chief, Ed Plaugher. And I'd like to have each of them come up, make some brief comments, and hold your questions till the end.

So, David?

CHU: Torie, thank you very much.

As you all know, the Department of Defense family has taken a terrible and tragic loss with the last 24 hours, and our deep sympathy goes out to the families of those most directly affected by these tragic events.

On the positive side, I am truly impressed by the spirit of the people in this department and the way they have rallied round, both yesterday and this morning, coming back into this building.

I do have, for those who have offices in the area bound by Corridors 2 through 6, which, as you know, are not useable at this juncture, we simply ask they call their supervisors for instructions on where they're supposed to go, if they've not already received those instructions.

I also want to give the department's thanks both to our own people and to the nation at large for the extraordinary, truly extraordinary response in donating blood. It's just terrific, and it shows how Americans will pull together in a crisis.

We are establishing -- it is now open -- at the Sheraton Crystal City, 1800 Jefferson Davis Highway, which, as you know, is on the Crystal City Metro stop -- a Pentagon Family Assistance Center. This is will fold into one place all the family assistance efforts of the department for all personnel, military of all branches, and civil. I'll have Meg Falk, who is our director of our Office of Family Policy, in just a moment say a word or two about the kind of capabilities that they have down there.

We will have a telephone number there shortly. Verizon is working very hard on installing that. It's not yet in, so unfortunately, I can't give you that number at this time. It will be a number, I should emphasize, just for the families. This is a center designed to help those families who are missing a family member, a family member is deceased or a family member is injured. We are committed to providing all the resources of the department to giving them the assistance that they should have.

I will emphasize we don't have answers to all your questions this morning. We are still working on some of these issues.

I would also emphasize to the families that the Sheraton Crystal City location is the place to go, not to the Pentagon, which is not the place we have this set up. It's set up in a commercial establishment, making it easier for them to get access and to make it as feasible as possible for us to provide them the services they need and deserve.

And with that, let me get Meg to say just a word or two about the kind of capabilities down there.

FALK: Yes. The Family Assistance Center set up at the Sheraton Crystal City is staffed with the best resources we could get. We have chaplains, social workers, personnel from all the services there to help and assist our families any way we can. We also have expertise, unfortunate expertise of people who served in the family assistance centers in the aftermath of Khobar and the Cole. They drove through the night to get up here so as to provide the very best possible support for our families.

And I, too, want to thank all those who worked all day yesterday and through the night in order to set up the center and to make all of the resources and all the care and all the love that we can give to our families who have lost their loved ones, to make all that happen.

So we encourage the families to go there. We will try to do everything we can to assist them. We can't answer all their questions at this point, but we will do our best for their questions to give them answers in as expedient time as possible.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Can I just ask --

CLARKE: We're going to ask -- (inaudible) -- important. We'd like each person to make their comments because their work is related.

QUESTION: Could we have them spell their names?

CLARKE: Sure.

FALK: "F" as in Frank - A-L-K. First name is Meg, M-E-G.

CLARKE: Major General Jim Jackson, you can come up and talk, and then we'll have Ed Plaugher.

JACKSON: My command's mission is to make sure that the military support that is needed for the operation is provided timely and effectively. And it's all based upon the incident commander's desires, and right now he is represented by the fire department personnel that you'll meet here shortly.

In that regard, what we are doing primarily right now is we're assisting in securing portions of the building inside to prevent personnel from going into damaged portions of the building. We're providing light labor support outside as required. I have an engineer company on the ground that is trained in urban search and rescue that is assisting the other teams, working in conjunction with them. And we're also functioning as the DOD liaison element with all the police, fire and other federal agencies in a combined operations center.

I'll answer questions in a little bit. Thank you.

CLARKE: Then the Arlington County fire chief, Ed Plaugher, which is P-L-A-U-G-H-E-R.

PLAUGHER: Good morning.

As you can see for yourselves, we are still engaged in a very stubborn fire fight with parts of the building. We have recently requested some additional specialized apparatus that will gain entry into the center courtyard of the Pentagon, and we're bringing additional specialized individuals very highly trained in this type of fire fighting.

We do have on the scene the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] team, and they've been here for some time now.

As a matter of fact, when they're all here, there will actually be four of the what are called USAR-FEMA [Urban Search and Rescue-Federal Emergency Management Agency] teams. They are starting operations at this point in the crash site, while fire fighting operations are going on in the other parts of the Pentagon.

We have no estimate at this time of how long it's going to take to get the fire out or how much additional resources we're going to need. However, as we get information we will be sharing it with you through the joint information center, which is part of the FBI's joint command post.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the persistence of the fire --

CLARKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why it is so difficult in that apparently attic area that continues to burn? What is it about that?

PLAUGHER: They type of the construction of the Pentagon is very, very, I would call, stout World War II type of construction. A lot of concrete, a lot of very thick masonry. On top of that is a wooden roof structure. On top of the wooden roof structure is slate, and so it's just a very very difficult system to get through to extinguish, and it takes a lot of cutting with special tools and equipment, and then a lot of hand work by the firefighters to get up in there. And we're trying to get ahead of the fire right now.

QUESTION: Are you going to knock down the sections that are leaning in the damaged part? Is that part of the game plan, or is that still a pending decision?

PLAUGHER: What typically USAR does is they make sure that they make it as safe as they possibly can for their people, so any debris that is loose or hanging comes down first. And so that you'll see that operation where there is some sort of demolition going on, and that is to make sure that any of the loose stuff doesn't fall on the rescue workers.

QUESTION: Question, but with a very brief prelude. Yesterday, earlier, of course, most of the smoke and the fire seemed to be fuel from the plane, and then late yesterday afternoon, that had dissipated or been put out, and there was light smoke, and actually very little late in the afternoon. Now there's a lot more. So, there are two questions, or a two-part question: One, what is burning? And two, what's caused the fire, apparently, to start up again?

PLAUGHER: Okay. We were never able to fully extinguish the fire in the roof structure. We were able to get it mostly knocked down, and again because we're having extreme difficulty making access under the slate roof, it's to be expected to take awhile to get there. We have had the fuel from the jet catch fire again, and we're now in there with some additional hand-lines and some foam-lines, with aircraft fire-fighters inside of the insides of the Pentagon trying to suppress it, this time with fire-fighting foam.

QUESTION: You said aircraft firefighters?

PLAUGHER: Yes, from the airport.

QUESTION: From the airport?

PLAUGHER: From Reagan National Airport.

QUESTION: Have you removed the bodies?

QUESTION: Could you tell me how many bodies have been removed?

PLAUGHER: We have no information on any type of casualty or body counts at this time.

QUESTION: By that you mean you haven't removed any bodies yet?

PLAUGHER: I will not say that, okay? But that whole process is being set up and is going to take some time. So again, that's not part of this briefing.

QUESTION: Will you have to get onto the roof in order to put out that fire?

PLAUGHER: Yes. We're up on the roof, we're up there now. We have our fire-fighting forces up there with great support from all the area fire departments -- Washington and --

QUESTION: Are you removing sections of the roof to get at the fire?

PLAUGHER: Yeah. We're doing what's called a "trench cut" which is a slice of the roof, which then lets the fire gases out of that part of the roof. We then bring water streams into the back part of the fire cut, and so that the fire actually sucks the water up to it and helps to extinguish the fire up there. Please excuse me, I've been up all night, so. But that's basically the technique that's used.

We have a couple of hundred firefighters on the fire ground right now from all of the area fire departments.

QUESTION: Can you give us any sense of the area that was destroyed, how wide it is? How many feet? And did it break through to all five rings of the Pentagon?

PLAUGHER: It did not break through to all five rings, and I do not know the measurements.

QUESTION: Is there anything left of the aircraft at all?

PLAUGHER: First all, the question about the aircraft, there are some small pieces of aircraft visible from the interior during this fire-fighting operation I'm talking about, but not large sections. In other words, there's no fuselage sections and that sort of thing.

The other question?

QUESTION: Do you have any injuries among firefighters, any at all?

PLAUGHER: We've had some small. When I say small, I'm talking about not major types of injuries. But we've had -- to my knowledge, we had four fighters transport to area hospitals for some minor injuries, and that probably has changed since I've even been here.

QUESTION: They were not hurt in the collapse?

PLAUGHER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: They were not hurt -- no one was hurt in the collapse?

PLAUGHER: Not to my knowledge, right.

QUESTION: Is that the only ring that has collapsed?

PLAUGHER: That is the only ring that has collapsed.

QUESTION: Which ring, the E ring?

PLAUGHER: The very exposed ring.

QUESTION: Chief, there are small pieces of the plane virtually all over, out over the highway, tiny pieces. Would you say the plane exploded, virtually exploded on impact due to the fuel or --

PLAUGHER: You know, I'd rather not comment on that.

We have a lot of eyewitnesses that can give you better information about what actually happened with the aircraft as it approached. So we don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: Have you -- have search and rescue teams made a priority of finding the black box of the aircraft? Have you gotten to that stage of trying to locate that at this point?

PLAUGHER: We obviously will, at the appropriate time. But at this particular time, we're all in the preliminary stages of setting up the further operations.

QUESTION: Can you describe how many firemen have been involved in this, how many units, or any way that you can, to give us a quantitative estimate?

PLAUGHER: Actually, believe it or not, we do not know. We had just this tremendous outpouring of help from the entire community, and we had firefighters and fire units from places that I didn't even know existed, here to help with the situation. So -- excuse me --

QUESTION: Several states?

PLAUGHER: Oh, yeah. Several states.

QUESTION: Did they come from -- how far?

PLAUGHER: All over Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania.

QUESTION: How many search and rescue people do you have standing by?

PLAUGHER: Okay. We have four USAR teams. Each one of these USAR teams has a complement -- and the last I was briefed, there were about 60-some people in each team, so there's four times 60-some of the USAR teams here.

QUESTION: Four search and rescue --

QUESTION: Where are they from?

PLAUGHER: Four search -- the search and rescue teams are from Fairfax County, Montgomery County; from the Virginia Beach Fire Department; and from a fire department in Tennessee. And I'm sorry I don't know which fire department in Tennessee, but it's called the Tennessee Task Force, so it might be made up of several fire departments out of Tennessee.

QUESTION: Are more coming in, sir?

PLAUGHER: Not at this time. As you might imagine, the USAR teams are fully engaged in the situation in New York City and other places. And so we're going to try -- what I've been told is they're going to try to hold it with the four urban search and rescue teams --

QUESTION: Have you had trouble getting search and rescue teams --

PLAUGHER: No, we have not. FEMA has been fabulous.

QUESTION: Will you be able to assure people that are working in the building that it's safe for them now to be there, with the smoke that's pouring out of the building?

PLAUGHER: We will be constantly evaluating the conditions within the -- inside the Pentagon and working with the Pentagon staff to make sure that it is safe.

QUESTION: What's the special apparatus --

QUESTION: Could you describe the extent of the damage now? Could you describe --

PLAUGHER: The apparatus question was -- we need some very low-profile apparatus to make it into the center courtyard of the Pentagon, so we can gain access to some of the roof structures. And because of some very old fire stations in some communities, they actually do design fire apparatus, with very, very low profiles, that has the reach capability that we need.

Sir?

QUESTION: Could you describe the extent of the damage caused by the fire now? I mean, Corridors 2 through 6 are closed. Is there fire damage now throughout that -- through all the rings?

PLAUGHER: Not through all the rings, but to the two rings on each side of the crash site that -- we have some covered walkways and we have fire going down those covered walkways, that has gone out to those covered walkways and now going down those corridors.

QUESTION: What about the flooding?

PLAUGHER: Obviously, we're using large amounts of water, and so we are deeply concerned about how much water damage that we're doing, particularly to the basement of the Pentagon and other areas. And so we're having that evaluated --

QUESTION: How hot is the fire right now, and how hot was it at its worst? Do you have any figures on that?

PLAUGHER: It's a stubborn fire. And it's not hot, and we're not, you know, engaged in a fully, you know, roaring fire situation; it's just stubborn, very difficult to get to and very difficult to extinguish.

The jet fuel fire that I was talking about earlier -- it's one of those things when you're dealing with a flammable liquid, it's very -- you got to put a blanket of foam over the top of it to stop it from flaring up.

QUESTION: Where is the jet fuel? Just --

PLAUGHER: We have what we believe is a puddle right there that the -- what we believe is to be the nose of the aircraft. So --

QUESTION: Where is that? What ring is that, or corridor --

QUESTION: Can you describe the reconnaissance efforts you used initially to determine survivors?

PLAUGHER: Okay. We immediately sent crews into the Pentagon upon arrival, to try to make sure we had a handle on exactly what parts of the building that we were in. And at that particular time, we were able to do a lot of search and we were able to do a lot of confirmation of the various parts of the building.

As you might imagine, with the volume of fire that we had, it got continually worse inside of there, so we had to back out. But early on, we were able to make quite a good -- what we call a preliminary search of this --

CLARKE: Chief, let me make one point here.

PLAUGHER: Yeah.

CLARKE: Folks, I had promised the chief he could get back to the job at hand, so make -- probably the last question for him -- (off mike).

QUESTION: You made a statement last night, a raw estimate of potential casualties of between 100 up to 800 -- really raw and preliminary, I understand --

PLAUGHER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Can you give a sense of how you arrived at that figure? And have you backed off of that today or expanded it, given that -- and it's still raw --

PLAUGHER: What I said last night was, this was a ballpark figure. You know, in other words, this is what we're looking at as far as for the size of it.

Again, we really do not have any casualty counts at this time. And you know, if you want to say that, you know, is that still accurate, I would say that we don't know anything other than it might still be accurate. I mean, wow, 100 to 800? That's huge, but that's the best we can do.

QUESTION: When you say the fire is stubborn, does that mean there are spots of fire in different portions, or --

PLAUGHER: Up in the roof section. It's hard to get to.

QUESTION: I see. Can you tell me where the fire is now?

PLAUGHER: As well as in the area right where the crash site was.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

PLAUGHER: Right.

QUESTION: So those two areas of fire --

PLAUGHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: -- are still burning.

QUESTION: And sir, have you cut through the roof to prevent it from spreading to the unaffected part of the Pentagon?

PLAUGHER: We are doing that now.

(Chief Plaugher departs.)

CLARKE: Yes?

QUESTION: Torie, you don't want to talk about casualties, but you obviously are pulling together a list of missing and must have at this point some ballpark estimate of how many people you believe are missing. It doesn't mean they're dead --

CLARKE: Each of the components is doing a roster check. Each of the components is doing that.

We have preliminary numbers. We do not want to put out the preliminary numbers until we're more confident of them. As we get the information, we'll put it out.

And let me make a point of something, which I talked about with the secretary this morning. We understand how much you need and want information, and we understand what you're trying to do. We are -- as we get information that we feel confident about, we will put it out. But we are going to be very careful about what we talk about and what we don't talk about.

So, as much as I know the desire for information about operations, military operations, for instance, we're just not going to do it because it's not helpful. What we're trying to plan now, for instance, is some briefings from the services in terms of the civil support that is being provided by the military. But I hope you'll understand. And any questions, more on the family assistance, again, this is a very, very important priority this morning, that we get out the information what we're doing for the families.

QUESTION: Can you just tell me where they drove up from? You said the ones who were involved with the Cole and the --

QUESTION: Torie? Torie, just one more question.

CLARKE: Okay, let Meg answer Andrea's question and then I'll do it.

FALK: Yes, the people who set up the Family Assistance Center in the aftermath of the Cole drove up from Norfolk, the whole Hampton Roads area, really, last night. And they're very experienced in this kind of thing, and that's why we called them in to support us in this effort.

QUESTION: Torie, just one question. Realizing again, to press this casualties point, realizing you don't know how many people were there at the time --

CLARKE: Right.

QUESTION: -- could you give us a round figure on now many workers would normally be in that area of the building, realizing that construction was going on. Is it the high hundreds?

CLARKE: No, I really can't do that, Charlie. No, I really -- I really can't give you that number. I have -- I have --

QUESTION: Is 800 an inaccurate figure?

CLARKE: I just -- I have no confidence in the 800 number, I have no confidence in any numbers right now. As we get the information, as I said, the components are doing the roster checks, as we get the information, we'll make it available.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of what the secretary is doing today, and what the Department of Defense is doing to respond to the attacks to the symbol of American military. I mean --

QUESTION: Torie, when did he leave here last night?

CLARKE: He went -- the secretary last night was over at the White House for the president's speech and a meeting after that with the president. Went home late last night, I don't know the exact time, but I know it was well after 10:00; came back this morning sometime between 5:30, 5:45, walked around to the site again and talked to some of the firefighters and others.

And the day, obviously, is going to be spent working closely with the president and the vice president and other members of the national security team, working on, as I said before, taking all the appropriate measures to ensure that the American people are safe, to ensure that our men and women in uniform are safe, and putting every effort towards the appropriate actions on those who are responsible.

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