Pentagon Reconstruction: Triumph Over Terrorism
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2002 Six months after terrorists slammed a hijacked jet into the Pentagon, the charred, gaping hole in the building is gone and new five-story walls have risen from the ashes.
Reconstruction of the Pentagon continues on March 5, 2002, as a countdown clock tracks the time remaining until Sept. 11, 2002. DoD photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Two American flags fly atop towering yellow construction cranes more than 150 feet above the site where 184 persons died. Whenever work crews reposition the cranes, these banners of freedom take the lead, ruffling in high winds overhead.
To many, restoring the Pentagon has come to symbolize the nation's resolve to win the war against global terrorism. Six months from today, Pentagon officials and construction workers alike intend to have finished the most visible reconstruction, renovation project manager Lee Evey told the press in an update briefing March 7.
"We want to have people back in the building on E Ring, where the aircraft impacted, by Sept. 11 of this year," he said. "We want them to be sitting at their desks performing their mission."
Everyone associated with the project, he said, wants to bring the building back as quickly as possible. "That's our goal, and that's our mission. We want to do it as efficiently, effectively, and we also want to do it in as cost-effective a manner as we possibly can."
A large digital clock at the site stands witness to that resolve. Illuminated red numbers display the hours and minutes remaining until the first anniversary of the attack. The clock bears the words, "Let's Roll," honoring the heroes who died in the skies over Pennsylvania to prevent further attacks on Washington.
"We're counting down the days," Evey said. "This gets to zero at 9:38 a.m. on Sept. 11 of this year -- just to remind everybody of our commitment and what we intend to do by that date.
As many as 1,000 workers a day have put heart and soul into rebuilding the nation's historic military headquarters. At first they worked three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"At Christmas, we insisted that all the workers take two days off," Evey said. "A group of 64 workers came and complained to us because they wanted to work straight through. We insisted they take two days off. We also insisted that they had to take two days off at New Year's."
As work progressed, managers cut the daily work force to about 600 workers, who now put in two 10-hour shifts a day, six days a week. "We didn't want to continue to push these guys seven days a week, 24 hours a day, because we're concerned that we could start to have accidents on the job," he said.
"Our accident rate on our project is extraordinary," he noted. "We've spent well over 860,000 man-hours on the job. We've had one lost-time accident, which was a minor thumb injury that one of the workers experienced. That's an extraordinary safety record."
Both managers and workers are highly motivated, Evey said. Managers start arriving at 3 a.m. so that the work is laid out and everything's ready for the workers to move forward by the time they arrive about 5:30.
The first step in the undertaking was dubbed Project Phoenix. It involved demolishing about 400,000 square feet of the building. From the first day, Evey said, the work has consistently been weeks ahead of schedule, he noted.
"We very quickly removed about 10,000 tons of debris," he said. Workers then shored up the structure, making it safe to "go back into those areas, remove things like classified materials, personal effects and things like that," he said.
After testing the condition of the building's concrete, construction engineers determined they would have to take down more of the building than they'd originally thought. Evey said normal concrete is brown or gray, but inspected parts had turned red, indicating extensive damage.
"Most of that damage," he said, "was caused by the intense heat to which it was exposed -- heat intense enough in some areas to melt the window glass, which ran down the walls and puddled on the floor."
Original estimates indicated that demolishing the damaged area would take up to eight months. "We managed to bring the building down in one month and one day, which is an extraordinary rate of building demolition," Evey remarked.
Pentagon officials are striving to improve "force protection" should the building be subjected to similar threats in the future.
"We have interviewed everyone that we could find in the building who was in close proximity to the crash at the time that it occurred," Evey said. "We're learning as much from them as we possibly can with regard to the performance of the building and how we can improve it."
Some changes are tiny, but very important, he said.
"In a fire, for example, it is unlikely people are going to be standing upright, looking for exit signs over doorways. You're going to be on your hands and knees," he said, "You probably won't be able to see your hand in front of your face. If you're underneath that exit sign, just eight or 10 feet away from it, it might as well be a hundred miles away, because you won't be able to see it."
To correct this, he said, workers are installing nonelectrical, glow-in-the-dark devices that can be placed at floor level so that a person on hands and knees can find the way out. "That doesn't cost a whole lot. It's not very sexy. It's not very exciting. But it's just very practical, and it seems to work pretty darn well," Every said.
Pentagon officials are also looking at ways to improve the sprinkler system, how to make the building more resistant to different types of attack, and how best to evacuate the building. Some new forms of protection had already been installed as part of renovation work under way at the time of the attack, he noted.
"Most people that were sitting in Wedge 1 on Sept. 11 had no idea that there were blast-resistant windows in that building," he said. "They had no idea that we had retrofit six-inch-by-six-inch steel members. They had no idea that we had put in Kevlar cloth to catch masonry fragments. Those things were invisible to them, but they operated very effectively."