Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Went Wrong in New York City on Sept. 11

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Went Wrong in New York City on Sept. 11

Article excerpt

They are searing questions that New Yorkers have been asking since Sept. 11: How prepared was the city, and how did it respond?

Now, with the benefit of three years of perspective and countless hours of interviews and videotape, the 9/11 commission is answering some of those questions - and the results are sobering. Although it won't reach final conclusions for some time, it has already found flaws from the mundane, such as insufficient fire drills, to the technical, such as improperly working communications equipment, to internal emergency politics - the city's police and fire departments often consider themselves rivals.

Its ongoing analysis found that those in the towers who were seeking help often received conflicting advice from 911 operators who were far removed from the scene. And it found there were no plans to deal with survivors above a fire in a high-rise.

The analysis is crucial, since New York remains the No. 1 target of terrorists, as one commission member points out.

New York remains "the forward edge of the battle," says commissioner John Lehman.

"We know that New York is at the top still of the priority list because we're dealing with an enemy whose principal goal is to create massive civilian casualties in the highest-profile environment that they can," Mr. Lehman says. "We can make the changes to be ready when they come the next time."

In some respects, the New York hearings are quite different from those held in Washington. For example, it started with a narrative that relived the 100 minutes of that September day "to explain the day in its complexity without replicating its chaos."

But since so many in the audience were families of the victims, they were warned, "The details we will be presenting may be painful for you to see and hear."

One of those was the tale of survivor Stanley Praimnath, an officer at Mizvho Corp. Bank, as he recalled how he was looking at the Statue of Liberty.

"And I'm looking at an airplane coming, eye level, eye contact, towards me - a giant gray airplane. I am still seeing the letter U on its tail, and the plane is bearing down on me. I dropped the phone and screamed and dove under my desk."

But most of the personal accounts illustrated the difficult choices faced by some of the 25,000 people in the two buildings. Brian Clark, the president Euro Brokers Relief Fund, recalls how he was talking to a man who was starting to evacuate the South Tower and returned to his office after it was announced that it was safe to remain.

The 9/11 reports concludes people were given this information to keep them from being hurt by plunging debris, as well as victims falling from the North Tower.

"We do not know the reason for this advice, in part because the on-duty deputy fire-safety director in charge of the South Tower perished in the tower's collapse," says the staff report. …

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