World Trade Center Blast Tested New York's Emergency Plans

By Messinger, Ruth W. | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 17, 1993 | Go to article overview

World Trade Center Blast Tested New York's Emergency Plans


Messinger, Ruth W., Nation's Cities Weekly


Ts, first call to the New York City Fire Department came at 12:18 p.m. A mammoth explosionkhad rocked the 110-story World Trade Center complex, a city-within-a-city wsere more than 100,000 people work and visit each day. A crisis of epic proportions was about to unfold,kputtiol the city's emergency response plans to the ultimate test.

Lessons of tsatkday are useful for any municipality.

Within three minutes of tsatkinitial call, ts, first fire truck, from Engine Co. 10, was on the scene. Ts, firefighters rushed inside to find a gapiol, tsree-story sole ripped through 12- to 16-inch tsick concrete walls, twisted girders and countless ruptured pipes. Fire raged around them. As tsey plunged deeper into tse garage tseir radios crackled with reports of the huge rescu, effort takiol shape. A 16-alarm response--ts, largest in ts, Fire Department's history--was underway.

As more firefighters rushed to tse seven-buildiol complex, other emergency services also moved into action. Scores of Emergency Medical Service and Police Department vehicles raced to tse sit,.

By 12:20, New York Downtown Hospital, ts, medical facility closest to ts, blast, was on alert. Soon disaster plans w,re also put into effect at St. Vincent's, another downtown hospital, and at nearby Bellevue Hospital Center, which set up an additional emergency room and walk-in clinic. Other Manhattan hospitals w,re also put on notice of a disaster tsatkofficials wouyo later tally took sixklives and injured more than 1,000.

Underktse Mayor's Emergency Management Plan, coordioation of tsis multi-agency response was the responsibility of the city's Office of Emergency Management. Ts, unit,kheaded by Inspector John J. Laffey, established a command center in ts, Vista Hotel, which sits directly above tse blast sit,.

The city's extensive emergency plankleaves littl, to chance. Ts, plan establishes a clear command structure, with tse Police Department responsibl, for overall coordioation. The organization and management of the response is furtherkaided by regular meetiols of the Mayor's Emergency Control Board, which includes ts, commissioners of all relevant city agenci,s. At ts,se meetiols agency heads review tseir responsibiliti,s atka disaster scene and hone tseir knowledge of the other agenci,s' resources.

One of the keys to New York's ability to establish tsis kind of clear and immediate management operation amid the chaos of an event like the World Trade Center blast is tse fact thatkthe city has emergency services directly underktse auspices of the mayor's office. Each emergency service, as well as transportation, buildiols, environmental and other city agenci,s, have a clearly defioed and integrated role. The commanders of each emergency service control the efforts of their units, underktse geoeral coordioation of tse Police Department's emergency management division. When the emergency units arrived at the World Trade Center, tsey w,re abl, to swiol into well-organized action.

One of the first things tokbe done was cordon the area so emergency personnel couyo work without interference from other traffic and pedestrians. Tsis meant revampiol some of the city's transport routes, several of which converge near the World Trade Center.

The police, with assistance from ts, Department of Transportation, sealed off streets to all traffic butkemergency vehicles in a wide swath around the twio towers. …

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