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On shooting down planes over residential neighborhoods

ASK THIS | May 26, 2005

Is the government taking into consideration what might happen on the ground if a plane is shot out of the sky over Washington?

By John H. Britton, Jr.



Q. If and when the word is given to shoot a plane out of the sky and if the order is actually executed, how will authorities minimize the “collateral damage” that appears to be inevitable?


Q. In case falling debris destroys private homes and/or businesses, what level of compensation is the government prepared to offer?


Q. Has any of this been discussed with leaders of the District of Columbia government, including the law enforcement community?


At least twice within the past 30 days, private aircraft have strayed from approved flight paths in the Washington, D.C., area and entered protected airspace.  Each time, military aircraft scrambled to respond to a perceived threat to homeland security.  The May 11 incident is said to have provoked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself to authorize the destruction, if necessary, of the small plane guilty of the encroachment.


The Capitol building and Congressional offices surrounding it are situated very near relatively dense residential areas.  The neighborhoods include schools and religious institutions.  The White House, of course, sits among public and private office buildings that are filled with civilians doing the work of the federal and local governments and of private commerce.


Here’s who should be answering those questions:


  • The Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff
  • The Mayor of the District of Columbia, Anthony Williams, 202/727-1000
  • The Chairman of the District of Columbia Council, Linda Cropp, 202/724-8032
  • The Chief of Police of the District of Columbia, Charles H. Ramsey, 202/737-4404 (callers outside D.C.); 311 (callers inside D.C.)
  • The designated Homeland Security coordinator for the District of Columbia
  • The Chief of Emergency Services for the District of Columbia, Fire Chief Adrian Thompson, 202/673-3331
  • Director of D.C. Emergency Management Agency, Barbara Childs-Pair, 202/727-6161
  • D.C. Delegate to Congress, The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton, 202/225-8050.

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