Special Report: Lee Evey: The Man And His Mission

By John Parkinson
Published in the September 2002 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

As the Pentagon renovation manager, Lee Evey is not only the man responsible for overseeing the Phoenix Project—restoring the area damaged in last September’s attacks–but he is also supervising the long-term renovation of one of the largest—and arguably the most famous–buildings in the United States.

This seasoned Vietnam veteran is a long time government worker who reports directly to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Evey was supervising construction crews at the building for more than two years when last year’s attacks occurred, on 9/11. When the aircraft hit the Pentagon, the first portion of the original project (and site of the plane’s impact) was only five days away from completion.

In a proactive effort, this section otherwise known as Wedge 1, was already renovated with steel-reinforced beams, blast resistant windows, and a geo-technical material similar to bullet-proof Kevlar cloth–designed to catch debris from an explosion. This was the only area of the entire building that had such safety measures installed at that time. These measures may have been instrumental in saving lives.

TFM sat down with Evey to discuss the progression of the Phoenix Project, the remainder of the renovation, and the lessons learned from the experience.

TFM: What advice can you impart to facility professionals from your overall experience with the Pentagon renovation?
LE: The Pentagon renovation has gotten a lot of notoriety as a result of 9/11. The unsung heroes of the building are the unsung heroes before 9/11. I’m talking about the guys who managed to keep that 60 year-old building—that has never been properly maintained—operating every week.

It’s a miracle that they could keep that building running as well as it does. They were doing it before the attacks. I must recognize the people in the building’s operation command center—those aren’t my people; those are the facilities management people.

TFM: With a building that was not code compliant, lacked the necessary records, and was filled with dangerous building materials, what presented the greatest challenge before the attacks?
LE: I would say the lack of records. There was no accurate record regarding information of telecommunications and cable. We are always digging something up, so it has become a whole house of horrors.

TFM: While the renovation is still many years away from completion, what are some of the advantages Pentagon facility professionals can enjoy in the interim?
LE: Facilities people can sit in the building operations control center, look at every thermostat, see the energy monitoring control system, and tell the temperature of each room. A facility manager can go to the utility areas and look at each component downstream to try and figure out what the problem is; he or she can observe if any problems are developing. A button can be punched, and graphs of the temperature over the last 24 hours can be illustrated. It can also be set to alarm automatically if things are out of line.

TFM: According to the renovation Web site, the Pentagon will be upholding sustainable design principles. Can you explain what these concepts are and why you came to the decision to implement them?
LE: The contractor came to us and said we could get a LEED certification. Our collective response was, “huh?” No one ever heard of such a thing, so we didn’t know what it was. After he explained it to us, we hired a specialist. LEED is leadership in energy and environmental design and there are categories. There is a plain standard which we call bronze, and there are also silver, gold, and platinum levels. We have a goal of getting at least a silver for the entire renovation. It’s a pretty aggressive goal for a renovation. In the Pentagon’s physical fitness area, our goal is to get a gold.

TFM: Can you describe what it felt like to see the Pentagon in person, for the first time after the attack?
LE: It was a shock. Everyone has seen pictures of the outer wall. Naturally, it was shocking to see on the front page of the newspaper and on television. But believe me, as shocking as those things were, they didn’t come anywhere close to the visceral response I got when I saw it myself. It’s a big, big building. When I saw that amount of damage, it’s a real emotional response. It is so much bigger than life, it’s hard to comprehend this is real and it this actually happened.

TFM: Can you provide additional details about the safety measures in place in Wedge 1 that helped prevent more casualties in the attack?
LE: The preventive measures that had the most direct and most immediate benefits were the steel, the blast resistant windows, and the ballistic cloth; those things helped prevent the building from collapsing. It helped the building remain standing for 35 critical minutes, so people could escape. Had the building collapsed immediately, the casualties would have been much higher.

When I say this I know it; 2,600 people were in the immediate area when that plane hit, and we had 125 casualties. It is unfortunate that we had 125 casualties, but the building did a remarkable job of protecting people.

Those measures made a big difference. Then you have other things that were less immediate but no less important. The sprinkler systems worked fabulously; the smoke doors worked great.

TFM: The Phoenix Project can be seen as a short rebuilding project wrapped inside a long-term renovation. Have there been important lessons obtained from the project?
LE: We tried to interview every person close to the impact–to the point of speaking to people in the hospital–and over and over again, people said they couldn’t see, they were disoriented.

We went back and looked at exit lights and retraced peoples’ routes out of the building. If there was an exit light there, why didn’t they see? We went to that group and said, “Would you be willing to serve in an experiment?” They responded, “We’ll do it in a second.” We turned off the lights and people tried to find their way out. They got down on their hands and knees and crawled out of their work spaces. They knew how important it was. As a result, we got a lot of good feedback.

TFM: The Phoenix Project is said to be more than $200 million below cost and is planning to finish before its deadline. How have you been able to achieve this?
LE: It’s teamwork. Before 9/11, we could go to a contractor and say to him, “We really want you to change how you behave and how you operate; I want you to become more efficient and more effective. I want you to meet all these requirements to work with us, but I’m not going to change. That doesn’t work. Before they can change, you have to change. So, first we went about changing ourselves. We organized ourselves and brought ourselves together.

I don’t have just one big design, engineer, and construction group. I have everything individually based geographically in smaller groups, because I have people that are responsible for a geographic area. In their area, they have a design team, architects, and engineers. When they have a meeting and they have to solve a problem, they are all there and they are part of the team.

TFM: While there is an obvious need to protect a building such as the Pentagon, do you think building owners and facility executives in existing skyscrapers or high profile buildings need to take considerable measures such as renovation, in order to protect their buildings and the people who use them?
LE: Clearly, the Pentagon, because of its character and its probable stance as a target, we need to do things to protect that building. However, that’s the kind of analysis that needs to be done on a case by case basis. I can’t speak for others. Building owners have to look at their circumstances and make smart judgements based on what their situations are. You can’t make buildings impervious to airplanes crashing into them.

TFM: In rebuilding both the Pentagon and a building or buildings on the World Trade Center site, what do these actions mean to Americans?
LE: I can’t comment on the World Trade Center; I have never even been there. I can only talk about the Pentagon. The building has been so historic in so many ways. During the Vietnam war, when people were demonstrating, someone like Abbie Hoffman wanted to levitate the building and make it disappear. Now it’s back in favor. The American people have come to respect this icon.

TFM: What will the completion of the Phoenix Project mean to you?
LE: Well, it’s not important what it means to me; it’s important what it means to the American public. And in some way after the events of 9/11, to some degree the Pentagon–and especially the Phoenix Project–has taken on some symbolic importance in the American psyche.

Our workers represent all ages, sexes, origins, religions; we are a potpourri of people–we are American. The general public sees people on TV that look just like them; and seeing workers doing a remarkable job resonates with the American public. That is the most important aspect of the project.

If you have additional questions about this project, visit the Web at www.renovation.pentagon.mil.