Protecting the Pentagon

The Pentagon, located in Arlington County, VA, is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and the world’s largest office building in terms of square footage – 6.5 million square feet, 3.7 million is used for offices. The building has five...


The Pentagon, located in Arlington County, VA, is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and the world’s largest office building in terms of square footage – 6.5 million square feet, of which 3.7 million is used for offices. The building has five floors above ground and two below...


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The Pentagon, located in Arlington County, VA, is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and the world’s largest office building in terms of square footage – 6.5 million square feet, of which 3.7 million is used for offices. The building has five floors above ground and two below ground. Approximately 23,000 military personnel are employed at the Pentagon, along with 3,000 non-defense support personnel.

While the building is massive looking from the outside, once inside you do not get the feeling you are in such a large building. The building is almost a city within itself with many areas that resemble a shopping mall. There is an athletic club, 20 fast-food outlets, a full-service restaurant, and many retail shops and professional services. The Pentagon also has its own Metro subway station and bus terminal. The interior of the building contains a pentagon-shaped, five-acre courtyard. During the Cold War, the Russians thought there was a missile silo in the courtyard and, for a time, a bull’s-eye was placed at the center of the courtyard for them to view from their satellites. This was eventually replaced by a snack bar.

Ground was broken for the construction of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941, exactly 60 years before the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 was intentionally crashed into the west side of the building by terrorists. (The building was dedicated on Jan. 15, 1943.) The 9/11 crash killed 189 people, including five terrorists, 59 passengers and 125 people at work in the Pentagon.

Following the 9/11 attack, the present-day Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) was established and charged with safeguarding the occupants, visitors and infrastructure of the Pentagon Reservation. The agency is made up of law enforcement personnel (U.S. Pentagon Police); criminal investigative and protective services agents; threat-management agents; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) technicians; and anti-terrorism/force protection and physical security personnel. This column focuses on the CBRNE Response Division.

Before the CBRNE division was created, it was preceded by a Bio Agent Testing (BAT) team. Today’s CBRNE division is composed of full-time personnel with military and fire/hazardous materials service backgrounds. For now, the CBRNE division is quartered off site in a former warehouse in Arlington. A new home for the division and its equipment and vehicles is under construction in the maintenance area of the Pentagon Reservation. This facility will enable the division to house all of its response vehicles, which now are kept in a fenced area.

Presently, there are 32 dedicated response personnel and 45 total in the CBRNE division. They respond to the Pentagon and its facilities and protect a daytime population of up to 35,000 people. On an annual basis, the members respond to several hundred calls. Experienced personnel are hired from the outside and hazmat certification is conducted in house. Pentagon police officers are trained by the CBRNE division to the Hazardous Materials Operations Level and in the use of Level C chemical and respiratory protection.

CBRNE division vehicles are designated for functional assignments during a response. Each vehicle carries initial-response equipment and personal gear for assigned technicians. The Rescue/RIT ERV (Rapid Intervention Team Emergency Response Vehicle) also carries EMS equipment. Three 2009 Ford F-550/Fouts Brothers ERVs are designated as follows: one ERV for entry operations; one ERV for decontamination; and one ERV for Rescue/RIT.

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