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Back to Archives | Back to October 2010 Contents 

Pentagon Safeguards against Future Incidents with Force Protection Agency

By Steven E. Calvery, Director, Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Arlington, Virginia

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n September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 out of Washington Dulles International Airport flew into the Pentagon, killing 64 passengers and 125 Department of Defense (DOD) employees. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as the attack on the World Trade Center. A swift U.S. military assault against al Qaeda launched our nation into an all out war on terrorism. These attacks also prompted the United States to examine security more closely with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The DOD determined that a more robust security force was needed for the Pentagon and directed the establishment of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA). Its charter was signed on May 3, 2002, and included the force protection, security, and law enforcement authorities of the Secretary of Defense under 10 U.S.C. 2674.

I came to the PFPA on May 1, 2006, almost four years to the day after the agency’s charter was signed. With my 30 years of federal law enforcement experience, I thought I was ready to take on a new challenge. I also had served with the U.S. Secret Service for 20 years and, as former director for law enforcement and security for the Department of the Interior, had improved security for national monuments immediately following 9/11. After my first few months with PFPA, though, I realized that protecting this massive building was much more complicated than it appeared. I’m now convinced that its size, location, and reputation make the Pentagon one of the most challenging buildings to protect in the United States.

This realization prompted a fresh approach to protection, not simply with the standard measures of barriers, patrols, and access control. An effective security footprint looks to answer the deeper questions: Who is coming to the Pentagon on a daily basis and why? Who is a target within the department? What is the current threat? How can we use current technology to enhance our security measures? This column focuses on the inherent challenges of protecting the Pentagon, what we do to mitigate those challenges, and how we are leaning forward to ensure we are utilizing the best practices and technologies to continue improving security here.

Building Complexities

I think most people probably underestimate the size and complexity of the Pentagon. The Pentagon is the workspace for more than 23,000 military and civilian employees, including DOD and other government officials, contractors, visitors on official business, foreign dignitaries, and delivery personnel. Comprising more than 6.6 million square feet, it is known as the largest low-rise office building in the world. In fact, in terms of square feet, the entire U.S. Capitol could fit inside any one wedge of the Pentagon.

An emergency response team member patrols the terrace after the March shooting.
A satellite image of the Pentagon showing the intricate roadways and massive parking areas of the reservation.

The Pentagon’s location makes this building extremely visible and busy. Nestled between three major roadways, it is the last point before thousands of commuters cross the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., each day. Consequently, it coexists with the largest subway and bus system in the national capital region, delivery and freight vehicles, and thousands of privately owned cars and trucks. More people pass through this transit center daily than there are employees in the building. Roughly 32,000 people board and disembark the Pentagon Metrorail each day, and approximately 18,000 utilize the various buses that stop at the Pentagon. Also, the Pentagon is the location of the largest ride-share site in the metropolitan D.C. area. This accounts for between 6,000 and 8,000 commuters looking for rides in the Pentagon parking lots each day.

The maze of roadways around the building makes it easy for people to get lost as they make their way through the 280-acre complex. In 2008 and 2009, more than 70 percent of arrests made by the PFPA were drunk driving related.

To compound the amount of local pedestrian traffic, there is a public memorial that flanks the building’s west side. Shortly after I became director, one of my first challenges was addressing the construction of the new Pentagon 9/11 memorial. This new structure was to be built right next to the building and include continuous public access. The Pentagon was never meant to be a tourist destination, but it is now a popular public location welcoming thousands of visitors each week.

An officer checks the badges of military personnel entering the building.
All cars are thoroughly inspected before entering the Pentagon courtyard.
A protective detail agent escorts foreign dignitaries to the Pentagon Memorial.

Finally, the Pentagon’s reputation around the world precedes it; it is a center of military might, the location of the most senior DOD leadership, and the headquarters of the National Military Command Center, all of which make it a constant target for terrorists and antimilitary/anti-U.S. groups. During the Vietnam War, antiwar protests at the Pentagon resulted in violent demonstrations.

Addressing Violence

Just recently, on March 4, 2010, an active shooter, armed with two loaded handguns, attempted to breech our security. During the attempt, two of my police officers received gunshot flesh wounds. The “lone wolf” shooter was immediately neutralized and was never able to enter the building; he never got past the first layer of defense. We were fortunate that no others were injured, but the situation prompted us to take another look at our security and make improvements. It also reinforced the importance of protecting the DOD’s senior leadership both at the Pentagon and as these individuals travel abroad.

An officer of the K-9 unit inspects a delivery truck before it enters the Pentagon reservation.
As part of their training, officers practice firing shotguns in the indoor firing range.
After the March shooting, officers check the badges of everyone approaching the Pentagon.

Protecting this massive facility and its critical leadership is no easy task. Ever since I came to the agency four years ago, we’ve been continuing to make improvements. Our strategy involves considering the threats to build a layered security framework. The result is a layered approach to security, and I believe we are close to the right mix of personnel and physical and technical security measures.

What most employees and visitors to the Pentagon see when entering the building is individual men and women in crisp-looking uniforms verifying their building pass or credentials. These federal police officers are the visible face of the agency. However, many of their colleagues, who are not quite as easy to spot, are nearby, busy training and functioning as members of a number of specialized directorates. These are, just to name a few,

The Agency’s CBRNE Response Division performs drills
to prepare for any incident that may present itself.

  • explosive ordnance disposal teams;
  • emergency response teams;
  • mail screeners;
  • K-9 handlers;
  • antiterrorism/Force protection agents;
  • surveillance and criminal investigations teams;
  • executive protective services teams;
  • threat management analysts;

  • chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives response (CBRNE) teams; and
  • Integrated Emergency Operations Center dispatchers.

All are working together as one, keeping the Pentagon and its occupants safe and sound. We do this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, and we do it well because we have no room for error.

Another key to an aggressive protection plan for the Pentagon is regular security assessments from the DOD and other outside entities. We benefit here from well established agencies within the department whose responsibility is to assess the security of military installations. This includes the Joint Staff Integrated Vulnerability Assessment and the Balanced Survivability Assessment. We look carefully at recommendations from these assessments and implement better security practices. Two years ago, we asked the Sandia National Laboratories to conduct an assessment of our perimeter security. Out of that assessment came the Pentagon Sentry program, a five-year, $200 million dollar project to upgrade the security around the building. Technologies being tested and introduced under Pentagon Sentry may become models for government buildings, utility plants, and mass transit systems as local authorities attempt to address similar threats.

Following are issues we are currently considering at the Pentagon:

  • How effective are pedestrian entrance checkpoints? Can full-height, bidirectional turnstiles or kiosks perform multiple functions at once using swipe and proximity cards, personal identification numbers, and biometrics in a fraction of the time it currently takes a conventional checkpoint to do the same job?

  • Are there smarter and more effective ways to inspect vehicles entering restricted areas without creating a backup? Under-vehicle surveillance systems complete with cameras and scales will increase security and streamline throughout. Automatic license plate readers can eliminate lengthy inspections at checkpoints.

  • Can common access cards and building passes be merged, contain more personnel data, and serve multiple uses while better serving customers?

  • How would our response capabilities and patrols fare if they were fairly graded by unbiased inspectors?

  • Is sustainable risk management a potential at the Pentagon?

  • What vulnerabilities might investigators find with the current Pentagon perimeter or with the utility plant?

Pentagon Sentry is one of several programs currently in progress. Another program nearing completion is Pentagon Shield, a “detect to protect” chemical biological protection system that is being launched in conjunction with the Pentagon Renovation Program. Through a mix of computer modeling software; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning manipulation; highly sensitive sensors; and human analysis, we are launching one of the most robust chemical biological detection systems in the world.

In addition to the technological and physical security improvements, we have developed one of the best trained and equipped federal police forces in the country. The Pentagon’s police force, the largest directorate within PFPA, has grown from about 250 people in 2002 to more than 700 people today. The total size of PFPA is now more than 1,300 people. Through an excellent working relationship with Connie Patrick, the director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, we have been able to manage training the influx of new recruits. It is critical that we maintain an aggressive hiring and training program to maintain our staffing. Our most effective resource remains the officer on the ground. Ensuring these officers are properly trained and equipped is paramount. The March 4 active shooter incident helped validate our recruiting and training program. Most of the officers involved in the incident were relatively new to the agency and had recently finished our training program. They responded as they were trained, and we were very fortunate.

Staff Retention

Steven Calvery meets with the officers involved in the March shooting to commend them on a job well done. Left to Right: Officers Colin Richards and Marvin Carraway Jr., Director Steven Calvery, and Officer Jeffrey Amos.

Retention is a concern with any law enforcement agency. The PFPA is no exception. To help keep officers attracted to the agency, we stress training, education assistance, feedback, and recognition. I hold regular town hall meetings with just officers (supervisors are not allowed) to get the unvarnished truth about their issues and concerns. We look at their issues and do whatever we can to help resolve them. The better informed a workforce is, the easier it is to implement change and manage issues. When our officers make a key arrest or identify a security weakness, I like to publically reward them in front of their peers. We do this with a director’s coin and personalized certificates. It is important to me to reinforce and encourage good police work.

With all that we do to help keep officers in our agency, we still have issues. We’ve been pushing for law enforcement retirement benefits ever since I came on board. This is one of my top priorities for the agency.

PFPA is constantly training and looking for innovative ways to improve an already great organization. Together with adequate resources, we do our best to eliminate the amount of risk, acceptable or otherwise. Our goals are to mitigate security vulnerabilities to an extent that is technologically feasible, economically reasonable, and humanly possible to maintain an adequate level of security.

The Pentagon is a building, an institution, a national icon, and an international symbol. Its size, location, and reputation make it one of the most challenging buildings to protect. The incident on March 4, 2010, was a reminder that we are still a target. We must leverage lessons learned from this incident and continue to improve force protection, law enforcement, and security to help address future threats.

Our goal is to take a safe and secure office building and make it even safer and more secure for our national security, our civilian and military leadership, our employees, our infrastructure, and the public. I know we will succeed. Our motto, Protecting Those Who Protect Our Nation, is stronger; our employees are more resilient, dedicated, and incentivized than any motivator our adversaries can devise and implement. Stitched on each PFPA officer’s shoulder patch are the words Semper vigilans, which translates from Latin to English as “always vigilant.” Each PFPA police officer follows that compass just as surely as one would use an actual compass to find one’s way in unfamiliar territory. It is advice that has saved countless lives in the law enforcement community and will continue to do so for years to come. ■

Please cite as:

Steven E. Calvery, "Pentagon Safeguards against Future Incidents with Force Protection Agency," The Police Chief 77 (October 2010): 26–32, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. 77, no. 10, October 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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