at the Capitol
the airliner headed up the Mall toward the Capitol, Curtis F. Nicholas
92 knew something was terribly wrong.
was right after the dull boom and the clouds of smoke across the
river, where the Pentagon sits, said Nicholas, 31, a sergeant in
the U.S. Capitol Police, who was on duty the morning of September
of the Capitols security force since 1993, Nicholas was in
the Russell Senate Office Building getting ready for a 9:30 a.m.
press conference with First Lady Laura Bush and Massachusetts Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy. She was about to testify before his education
was standing with a friend who works in the Senate recording studio,
setting up for C-Span and the networks, and he went around the corner
to check the TV in the reception room and [C-Span] had the cameras
right on it, he said of the airliner that slammed into World
Trade Center II. Someone on Mrs. Bushs staff also saw the
explosion on the television, and she was whisked away by her Secret
everyone grappled with what was happening in New York, American
Airlines 77 struck the Pentagon at 9:45. And over the Capitol police
radio came the command: We are now in Dome II, the name
of the enhanced security plan for the Capitol complex: the building
itself and the four House and two Senate office buildings adjacent
we got an announcement that another plane was headed up the Mall
toward the Capitol, Nicholas said.
turned out to be an airliner that had been told by the control tower
not to land at Reagan National Airport. The pilot was forced to
bank its turn in the narrow airspace above the Potomac River, which
left him little choice but to use the relatively open expanse of
a few minutes, things were pretty hairy, said Nicholas.
Then the House sergeant-at-arms gave the order to evacuate the Capitol.
Ten minutes later the Senate sergeant-at-arms followed suit.
House sergeant-at-arms is best known as the ceremonial figure who
announces Mr. Speaker: the President of the United States!
whenever the chief executive addresses a joint session of Congress.
But in fact, Nicholas says, he and his Senate counterpart are full
members of the U.S. Capitol Police board, which also includes the
Architect of the Capitol. The Senate sergeant-at-arms, Alfonso Lenhardt,
who is also the chief of the Capitol police force, had just taken
over the unit. His first day was September 9, Nicholas
1,500-person Capitol police force already was on heightened security,
as it has been since the July 1998 shooting of two Capitol police
officers. So Nicholas, in the Russell Building, said he was able
to evacuate all six floors within 45 minutes. Most of the Senators
and their staffs could do nothing except regroup in a nearby park
because the Washington Metro subway system had been stopped as a
security precaution. Some were not able to get home until late in
the afternoon, when the Metro again began running. Nicholas himself
did not leave the Capitol until after midnight.
Capitol police have many functions, including order and general
security at the public entrances, the loading docks and the tiny
subway system that shuttles between the buildings of the Capitol
complex. The police guard against dangers ranging from lone shooters
to truck bombs. The Capitol, an open public space, has a long safety
record unbroken between 1954, when a group of Puerto Rican nationalists
opened fire from the gallery of the House, and the 1998 shooting.
Nicholas says, the polices responsibilities have grown enormously,
and include such precautions as X-raying all delivery vehicles and
screening touriststhe Capitol reopened to the public the Saturday
after the terrorist eventswith airport security-style equipment.
Other security measures now in effect include the recent Mylar coating
of all windows in the buildings, to make them shatter-resistant.
September 11, Nicholas said he and all other members of the Capitol
police detail have been working 12-hour shifts six days a week.
This has cut into his time with his wife, Kimberleigh, and their
three children. Still, he found time to accompany his father, Moravian
pastor Stephen O. Nicholas 63, to one of Cal Ripken Jr.s
last games with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
indefinite, he says of his long hours and six-day weeks. We
fully expect [security measures] only to increase, not decrease,
especially with a military operation in the works. We wont
be able to be in a stand-down mode for a while.