Giuliani Directs Blame Solely at 9/11 Terrorists
Others testifying Wednesday included Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who defended the federal government's anti-terrorism efforts since the attacks, and Arlington County Fire Chief Edward P. Plaugher, who endorsed the type of centralized command system used in response to the attack on the Pentagon.
In a report issued before Wednesday's testimony, the panel's staff found that New York fire officials had failed to realize that they could have dispatched firefighters more quickly to the South Tower in the crucial minutes after the skyscraper was hit by the second plane.
Because of a lack of timely information, commanders dispatched new fire units to the South Tower instead of turning to units on hand in the North Tower. As a result, the additional firefighters arrived later and, in many cases, were killed in the ensuing collapse, the report said.
"The decision to handle the South Tower by dispatching new units meant that the number of firefighters available to help evacuees in that tower was relatively small for at least the first 20 minutes after the tower was hit, though that number sadly was rising in the minutes before that tower collapsed," the staff wrote in a 10-page report.
That haunting conclusion followed Tuesday's report, which acknowledged numerous acts of heroism and bravery on Sept. 11, 2001, but detailed widespread problems with the communication and organization of New York police and fire officials. The panel found that employees in the South Tower were erroneously told to stay there by 911 operators even after an evacuation order had been issued, and despite the fact that one of the stairwells in that tower remained passable.
By contrast, Wednesday's report praised the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, crediting a clear command system that vested a significant amount of power in one entity: the Arlington County Fire Department. But the commission report also cautioned that the "two experiences are not comparable" because of the scale of the calamity at the World Trade Center, which involved tens of thousands of potential victims and was far less contained than the devastation at the Pentagon.
But the staff also found that authorities in the Washington area reported communication glitches and other problems similar to those in New York. In an "after-action report" by Arlington County, for example, officials described problems with radio channels and equipment that had also plagued firefighters and police officers at the World Trade Center.
"Cellular telephones were of little value. . . . Radio channels were initially oversaturated. . . . Pagers seemed to be the most reliable means of notification when available and used, but most firefighters are not issued pagers," the Arlington report said, according to the commission.
The report concluded that command, control and communication problems "will likely recur in any emergency of similar scale." It recommended that New York adopt an "incident command" system to provide better coordination during major emergencies. Although Bloomberg and other New York officials testified that their new plan fits that definition, several commission members argued that the plan may cause more problems than it solves.
The commission also announced on Wednesday that it had selected W.W. Norton and Co. as the "authorized publisher" of its final report, to be completed by July 26. The paperback report will be distributed through booksellers for $10 per copy.
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