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Context of '8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001: White House Staffers Are Preparing for the Annual Congressional Picnic'

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The annual Congressional picnic.The annual Congressional picnic. [Source: Grant Miller / White House]Many staffers at the White House are busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic at the time the terrorist attacks begin. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] The Congressional picnic is a bipartisan event held on the South Lawn of the White House, which brings together members of Congress, their families, and members of the administration for a casual and lighthearted evening. [CNN, 6/23/2017] An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people are expected to attend today’s event, which is scheduled to begin at about 7 o’clock this evening. [C-SPAN, 7/11/2011] A caterer from Texas has been helping to prepare the food and a band has been booked to provide music. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255; Bush, 2010, pp. 197; Washington Post, 9/6/2011; Brower, 2015, pp. 256] About 16 White House chefs are busy getting ready for the event. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011] Meanwhile, members of the Army are at the southeast gate, delivering mobile kitchens for it. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255] About 170 to 180 picnic tables have already been set up on the South Lawn, along with a stage. [Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] However, the event will be canceled in response to this morning’s attacks. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Oklahoman, 10/16/2002] Much of the food prepared for it will be given to members of the Secret Service, Washington, DC, police, and National Guard who respond to the crisis, and to staffers who stay behind after the White House is evacuated. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Brower, 2015, pp. 265] Some people will later point out how much death and destruction could have resulted if the Congressional picnic had been a target of today’s attacks. (White House press secretary Ari Fleischer publicly announced, four days ago, that the picnic would be taking place on the South Lawn this evening, so terrorists could presumably have learned when they needed to carry out an attack if they wanted to target the event. [White House, 9/7/2001] ) “Had [the attacks] occurred at night and had the White House been a target, [the terrorists] would’ve been able to wipe out the entire United States government,” Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, will comment. [Smithsonian Channel, 2/16/2009] “If the terrorists knew the entire government was going to be on the South Lawn at 5:30 at night, they could have killed everybody,” Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ) will say. [South Jersey Magazine, 9/2011]

Entity Tags: Gary Walters, Rob Andrews

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; New York Times, 5/26/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; USA Today, 9/2/2002] According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 38] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 39] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107] According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file] This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41] In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 41] According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Gary Walters.Gary Walters. [Source: C-SPAN]Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, and a few of his colleagues take the time to clear up the White House grounds ready for when President Bush returns, and even continue with the task after the White House is evacuated. Earlier this morning, many White House staffers were busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic, which was scheduled to take place this evening (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). About 170 to 180 picnic tables have been set up on the South Lawn for the event. After he learns that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Walters decides to start moving the picnic tables off the lawn so Bush’s helicopter will be able to land on the grounds when the president returns to the White House. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]
Usher Arranges to Clear the Lawn - He coordinates with the National Park Service, which is in charge of the White House grounds, to determine who will be clearing away the picnic tables. [Brower, 2015, pp. 257] He then sets about moving the tables. “I got the staff together and started sending them out to the south grounds—anybody I could think of—because I knew that we had to try to move as quickly as possible,” he will later recall. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] However, at about 9:45 a.m., the White House is evacuated after the Secret Service learns of a possible threat against it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Staffers Continue Clearing the Grounds, despite the Danger - Around this time, Walters sees the smoke coming from the Pentagon, which was attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and realizes the White House could be hit next. And yet he decides that he needs to stay where he is in order to clear up the grounds. “As far as I was concerned, my responsibility was there at the White House,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] “I knew we had to get those tables out,” he will state, adding, “I even felt more urgency, since obviously this was a coordinated attack now.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] While the Secret Service is ordering people to run for their lives, Walters grabs a few of his colleagues and tells them they need to stay and help clear away the picnic tables. “I got the word that everybody was evacuating, but we had something that we needed to do,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] After hearing that another suspicious plane is approaching, however, Walters and his colleagues go to the southeast knoll, a rise in the White House lawn, and just stand there, watching the sky and waiting.
Lawn Is Cleared by Early Afternoon - By around 11:00 a.m., they are becoming impatient. Walters therefore says, “Guys, let’s go move some picnic tables.” The men then start carrying the picnic tables off the lawn. A police officer joins them and eventually about a dozen people are helping them to move the tables. By around 1:00 p.m. all of the tables have been removed from the lawn. At about 3:45 p.m., Walters is called by someone from the military, who asks him to clear the South Lawn so the president’s helicopter will be able to land there. Walters laughs and says this has already been done. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] The president’s helicopter, with Bush on board, will land on the South Lawn at around 6:55 p.m. (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 263]
Usher Will Later Justify His Actions - Walters will, in 2016, explain why he made the effort to clear up the White House grounds, despite the danger to himself and his colleagues. “One of the things that I turned to in my own mind on 9/11 was the role that the White House plays in disasters, wars,” he will say, adding, “People have a tendency to turn to the White House.” He will continue: “And I knew that the president wasn’t gonna be satisfied talking from a bunker somewhere or away from the White House. And that’s why we put the effort that we did into cleaning up the south grounds, so that [his] helicopter could land there. That was what the American people were used to seeing—the presidential helicopter coming in—and the president was going to address the nation from the Oval Office.” [Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]

Entity Tags: National Park Service, Gary Walters

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) [CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Washington Post, 11/21/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; CBS, 9/11/2002] Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 431 and 449] Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” [US Department of Defense, 9/15/2001] “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 450]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of Defense, Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Pentagon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House.Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House. [Source: Associated Press]The White House is evacuated after the Secret Service receives what the Associated Press describes as a credible threat of a terrorist attack against it. [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] Minutes earlier, in the White House Situation Room, Secret Service Director Brian Stafford informed counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that an aircraft was heading in their direction, and said he was going to order the evacuation of the White House (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] The Secret Service learned of this aircraft by monitoring radar and over an open line with the FAA (the “hijack net”), which enable them to receive real time information about the hijacked aircraft. The Secret Service, which has been using an air surveillance system called Tigerwall for some time (see (September 2000 and after)), tracks both American 77 and United 93 as they approach Washington and assumes the White House is a target. Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs will later say, “The Secret Service prepared to defend the facility,” although the precise nature of the preparations is unclear. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; PCCW Newsletter, 3/2006] A slow and orderly evacuation of the White House had in fact begun earlier on (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But now the Secret Service orders people to run so as to evacuate faster. [CNN, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Barbara Riggs, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Walter Scheib.Walter Scheib. [Source: Walter Scheib]A number of staffers are still in the White House long after the building was evacuated, unaware of the terrorist attacks that have occurred and the potential danger they are in. [Brower, 2015, pp. 263] The White House was evacuated at about 9:45 a.m., after the Secret Service learned of a possible threat against it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/12/2001] And yet some butlers on its second and third floors who have been setting up the bars for this evening’s Congressional picnic (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) only learn something unusual is going on nearly an hour after the evacuation took place. [Brower, 2015, pp. 263] They emerge from the building “well after the White House had been officially evacuated,” White House chef Walter Scheib will later recall. “The residence was such a world of its own [that] they had no idea what had transpired,” he will say. [Kantor, 2012, pp. 38] Additionally, a few engineers remain in the basement of the White House for hours after the evacuation occurs. They are “oblivious to the panic upstairs and the danger they [are] in,” according to journalist and author Kate Andersen Brower. [Brower, 2015, pp. 263]

Entity Tags: Walter Scheib

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush arrives at the White House, after exiting Air Force One at 6:42 p.m. and flying across Washington in a helicopter. [Salon, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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