This edition of Buildings magazine is dedicated to the hard work and monumental efforts of commercial building owners and facilities professionals who, in the shadows of devastation, have pulled together to relocate displaced tenants, diligently continue recovery efforts, and reassure tenants they are safe in their buildings.
Earlier this year, I was privileged to have had the opportunity to cover one the world's largest and most extensive renovation projects - the Pentagon. On September 11th, I watched in horror as America lost the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City, followed by news that the Pentagon had also sustained considerable damage as a result of a terrorist attack.
The aircraft, carrying 64 passengers, hit Wedge 1 and Wedge 2 of the Pentagon at ground level, penetrating four of the five corridor rings. The building's lower levels sustained the most severe structural damage as the jet fuel continued to burn. Subsequently, the section of the building most directly affected by the impact began to collapse.
Walker Lee Evey, Pentagon Renovation Program Manager, spoke in-depth with me about what happened that day and about plans for rebuilding and continuing the renovation process at the Pentagon.
Evey: Let me start off by saying that, because of the events, our program has gotten a great deal of notoriety. I feel a bit guilty that we're the ones getting all of the visibility, if you will. The people in the Pentagon Building Maintenance Office, (PBMO); Washington Headquarters Services; the Defense Protective Service; FEMA; the FBI; the Military District of Washington; the fire departments from the local areas here, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and Montgomery County; and so many [other] organizations … have all done an outstanding job, working together under the worst of circumstances.
BUILDINGS: All of America watched the news surrounding the attack. How much did the fact that the plane hit the renovated wedge of the building affect how much worse the damage could have been?
Evey: We are, in general, very pleased with the way the building performed. It is unfortunate that mingled with the pride, of course, is the realization that it was a most unfortunate circumstance - though it could have been a lot worse. We're just very proud that the building worked as well as it did.
Wedge 1, which we had just finished constructing, has a full sprinkler system in it. It operated quite well. If you look at the building, there was a fire after the crash, but that fire did not spread beyond where it was immediately set by jet fuel. It did not spread throughout Wedge 1. The sprinkler system knocked that fire down immediately. The fire really spread in Wedge 2 where there was not a sprinkler system.
The downside [of Wedge 1's system] is that it soaked everything. It's all wet in there and we have had some mold growth coming up, but the amount of damage is pretty minimal. In fact, the first of those areas is being reoccupied [Oct. 1st]. The building is going to become operable - back up and running again - faster than people would generally think would be possible. We intend to be very aggressive in this process.
BUILDINGS: How was it possible for the Pentagon to have sustained such severe damage, yet managed to successfully evacuate so many people?Brett Eaton (left) and Walker Lee Evey demonstrate the point of impact and discuss the amount of damage to the Pentagon in which 125 employees and the 64 passengers of American Airlines Flight 77 perished in the September 11th attack.
Evey: This can be directly attributed to the people who stayed at their post in the building operations and command center. It is quite close to where the aircraft entered the building. They stayed at their posts in choking smoke and [in] very, very difficult circumstances. [They] made sure the building maintained operations, and were literally shutting down the electrical system in advance of the search-and-rescue teams who where going through the building. They kept everything up and running until the very last second before those people would enter. To some extent, I represent them here today, too.
BUILDINGS: How many people were evacuated from Wedge 1 and Wedge 2 of the Pentagon that morning?
Evey: If you look at Wedge 1 and Wedge 2 together, that's about 2 million square feet of space. In normal circumstances, there would have been about 10,000 people in Wedge 1 and Wedge 2.
"We were in the process of populating Wedge 1 with people from Wedge 2, so there were actually about 4,600 people in Wedge 1 and Wedge 2 when the plane hit. In the immediate impact area - which can be described as being from apex to apex, half way through Wedge 1 to half way through Wedge 2 - there were about 2,600 people. [Of that number,] 125 people lost their lives.
BUILDINGS: What is the extent of the damage to the Pentagon, and where will you begin the process of rebuilding?
Evey: "At this time, we do not know [the true] extent of the damage. We have yet to have an opportunity to get in there and do [an analysis] … and very complete testing [will be needed] to determine the full extent of damage. Clearly, what we intend to do, as rapidly as possible, is to bring down those portions of the building that have structural damage. We intend to rebuild first the outer wall of the Pentagon. We'll rebuild it about 7 inches inside the existing face of the Pentagon because we will then again face it with limestone to match the previously existing limestone. We already have the limestone being cut to do the replacement … [as] the quarries are only going to run for about another six weeks before they start to shut down for winter. We're having the big blocks of limestone cut now so we can work them over the winter and have them ready to reinstall on schedule.
Then, we will start doing additional work inside the building itself. It is our intent to do the work as quickly as we possibly can to bring the building back up and into an operational state.
We are also undertaking a very active program to try to ensure that we communicate with as many people as we can who were in the area when the incident happened. Find out what they experienced as they tried to exit the building. In some instances, workers found exits cut off, blocked by debris or flames. We want to find out how they went about escaping from the building - to find out what worked, what didn't work, and what we can do to improve.
We're working with the Army Corp of Engineers; they're [using] one of their super computers to do an analysis of the building's systems to look at what happened, and what can be done to improve. Many of the things we're learning - and we have already started to learn some things - seem pretty mundane; they're not terribly expensive, and upon reflection, they're kind of common-sensical. Yet, we think we can make the building even safer in the future.
BUILDINGS: Has your role throughout this disaster changed at all?Repairs to the two damaged Wedges of the Pentagon are estimated to reach $800 million.
Evey: Our role in renovating the building has, perhaps, expanded a bit as a result of this disaster, but it hasn't really changed what we are about. We're here to renovate the building. In doing the renovation, we were about to start on Wedges 2 through 5. The way we go about it now might be slightly different. Obviously, we didn't anticipate this happening, but we always knew as we approached the job that this is the Pentagon and because of that world events, things that happen, many, many miles away, maybe continents away, are going to affect the way the building operates and is going to place requirements on the building and the people within it. It's going to require changes within the building.
Evey and his crew of 300 have been working 15- to 18-hour shifts since the attack. The cost of the repairs and construction stands at an estimated $800 million for Wedge 1 and Wedge 2. Evey believes that it will take as long as 18 months to tear down, clear, and rebuild these sections of the Pentagon. He also adds that it could take another two years before the space is completely built out.
The weeks following the attack have been filled with stories of hope and triumph, amidst devastating numbers of human casualties and mountains of twisted steel and concrete. Events of Sept. 11, 2001, intended to tear away at what makes America great, have only succeeded in bringing Americans closer together - strengthening our determination to be the world leader and our commitment to protecting that which is most precious to us, our freedom.
Clara M.W. Vangen ([email protected]) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.