More than 100,000 people used to tour the Pentagon each year. However, since September 11, 2001, the hour-long tours are now open only to educational groups and media.
"The security at the Pentagon has always been tight because it is the headquarters for the military establishment of the U.S.," said Glenn Flood, head of the Pentagon press office. It is even tighter now, with visitors asked to open their bags to be searched before entering the building. Metal detectors have been set up and visitors must be met by a Pentagon employee before they can enter the building. Most visitors used to enter the Pentagon through the subway station entrance. Visitors went from the subway to the tour lines with very little scrutiny by security. "You didn't have to show me your bag or anything like that until 9/11," Flood continued.
The Pentagon, which is located just outside of Arlington, Virginia, is the world's largest federal office building, covering 29 acres. More than 23,000 employees, both military and civilian, work in the building. Its 17 miles of corridors contain everything an employee might need during the day: banks, travel agencies, cafeterias (more than 40), restaurants (including Kentucky Fried Chicken and soon a McDonald's), a post office, medical clinics, dentist, gyms, dry cleaners, and a daycare center. The major TV networks have press offices at the Pentagon. The pressroom is probably the most well-known room in the Pentagon since it is often seen on TV during Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's press conferences.
The Pentagon is also part museum and memorial. One room, called the Hall of Heroes, is dedicated to the people who have received the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest decoration for military personnel. Three different versions of the Medal of Honor are on display: an Army version, a Sea version (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard), and an Air Force version.
A new memorial for the people who died during the attack on September 11has been added to the hallways as well. The names of all who were killed in the Pentagon that day are listed. Tracing paper is available to trace the names or make a rubbing. As a part of the memorial, two books pay tribute to the victims. There is also a book for visitors to sign or leave comments. These books are given to the victims' families as they are filled up.
Tour guide Private First Class Frank Webb was conducting his 15th tour when a plane hit the Pentagon last year. He had only been a tour guide for a month.
"I did not feel the building shake, but I did feel the shock wave coming down the corridor and I did hear the explosion," Webb said. He was in charge of a group of 30 tourists. Only four spoke English. "We were on the tour when the first planes hit in New York. None of us had seen the news. We didn't know what was happening."
An alert system announced that the Pentagon was under force protection D, meaning the building was under attack. Webb evacuated his group to the south parking lot where buses took them away from the scene. "No one wanted to leave their bags. They all had to go back to the beginning of the tour to get their bags," Webb said. None of the tourists were injured.
Since 9/11, the Pentagon has been under force protection C, which means an attack has occurred. For public tours to resume, security must be at level A, or normal.
"That won't be happening for a long time," said Flood. "I'm sure it will eventually, but not for now."