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Context of '(Shortly After 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Emergency Management Personnel Set Up Operations in Their Command Bus'

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Richard SheirerRichard Sheirer [Source: Publicity photo]Richard Sheirer is in a meeting at New York City Hall when he is informed by telephone of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Sheirer is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which was set up in 1996 to coordinate the city’s overall response to major incidents, including terrorism (see 1996). It has an emergency command center on the 23rd floor of WTC 7, specially intended for coordinating the response to catastrophes such as terrorist attacks (see June 8, 1999). Yet instead of going to this, Sheirer heads to the North Tower, and arrives at the fire command post set up in its lobby before the second crash at 9:03 a.m. [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] John Odermatt, Sheirer’s top deputy, also goes to the North Tower and says that, after the first plane hit, he leaves only two staffers at the command center. John Farmer, who heads the 9/11 Commission unit that assesses the city response to the attacks, will find it “strange that Sheirer, four OEM deputies, and a field responder went straight to the North Tower… rather than to the nearby emergency command center.” Journalists Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins will conclude, “[T]he command center was out of business from the outset.” [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 31 and 34] Sheirer stays at the North Tower lobby until soon after 9:30 a.m., when Mayor Giuliani requests he joins him at the temporary command post at 75 Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] John Farmer will later complain, “We [the 9/11 Commission] tried to get a sense of what Sheirer was really doing. We tried to figure it out from the videos. We couldn’t tell. Everybody from OEM was with him, virtually the whole chain of command. Some of them should have been at the command center.” Fire Captain Kevin Culley, who works as a field responder at OEM, is later asked why most of the OEM’s top brass were with him at the scene of the incident. He says, “I don’t know what they were doing. It was Sheirer’s decision to go there on his own. The command center would normally be the focus of a major event and that would be where I would expect the director to be.” When the 9/11 Commission later investigates OEM’s shortcomings on 9/11, “No rationale for Sheirer’s prolonged lobby stay, no information conveyed to commanders, and no steps to coordinate the response” will be discovered. [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 31-32 and 34]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, John Odermatt, Kevin Culley, Richard Sheirer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the first World Trade Center tower is hit, Barry Jennings, a City Housing Authority worker, and Michael Hess, New York’s corporation counsel, head up to the emergency command center of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which is on the 23rd floor of WTC 7. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001] The center, opened in 1999, is intended to coordinate responses to various emergencies, including terrorist attacks (see June 8, 1999). [CNN, 6/7/1999] However, Hess and Jennings find no one there. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109-110; BBC, 7/6/2008]
Center Is Empty; Jennings Warned to Leave - Jennings will describe that, when he arrives at the emergency command center, “To my amazement, nobody’s there.” He says: “I saw coffee that was still hot, that was still smoldering. They had screens all over the place, but the screens were blank. So I didn’t know what was going on.” He then phones several individuals, including one of his superiors. When Jennings says where he is, the superior responds: “Get out of there. Get out of there now.” Hess then runs back into the center, after having found the stairwell, and says: “We’re the only ones up here. We gotta get out of here.” [Dylan Avery, 2007; BBC, 7/6/2008]
9/11 Commission Claims Command Center Not Evacuated until Later - Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, “After the South Tower was hit [at 9:03], OEM senior leadership decided to remain in its ‘bunker’ and continue conducting operations, even though all civilians had been evacuated from 7 WTC.” The Commission will claim the emergency command center is not evacuated until 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] But according to the London Independent, Hess and Jennings arrive there by the time the South Tower is hit, which suggests the center is evacuated earlier than officially claimed. [Independent, 9/13/2001] Jennings himself will recall, “I had to be inside on the 23rd floor when the second plane hit.” [Dylan Avery, 2007] The possibility that the emergency command center is evacuated earlier than the 9/11 Commission claims is partly confirmed by OEM Commissioner John Odermatt, who later says that after the first plane hit the WTC, he left only two staffers there (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 34] Jennings and Hess subsequently head down the stairs, but will become trapped in WTC 7, and have to be rescued by firefighters (see 12:10 p.m.-12:15 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109-110]

Entity Tags: Michael Hess, Office of Emergency Management, Barry Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas Von Essen.Thomas Von Essen. [Source: Publicity photo]The Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in World Trade Center Building 7 is evacuated in response to a report that more commercial planes are unaccounted for. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] The EOC, which opened in 1999 (see June 8, 1999), is a state-of-the-art facility on the 23rd floor of WTC 7 that is intended to serve as a meeting place for city leaders in the event of an act of terrorism or other kind of crisis. [CNN, 6/7/1999; City of New York, 2/18/2001] Office of Emergency Management (OEM) officials activated it shortly after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the WTC (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bylicki, 6/19/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293]
Staffers Discussed Evacuation after the First Crash - Soon after the crash occurred, officials in the EOC “began discussing with OEM staff whether or not they should evacuate the building,” according to a report by Tricia Wachtendorf of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 77] Richard Rotanz, deputy director of the OEM, and some other officials in the EOC conducted a “threat analysis” after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002]
Staffers Want to Stay in the Operations Center - Personnel are reluctant to leave the EOC because in it they have “a tremendous amount of resources at their fingertips” and they are “best able to handle an emergency of this scale,” Wachtendorf will later write. Furthermore, there is no clear procedure to move to or establish an alternative operations center if it is abandoned. “I couldn’t think of where we would go if we left the EOC because at that time we didn’t have a backup facility,” one official will recall. There is, in fact, “no formalized evacuation plan for the EOC,” according to Wachtendorf. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 77-79]
OEM Deputy Director Orders the Evacuation - However, Richard Bylicki, a police sergeant assigned to the OEM, was told during a call with the FAA that at least one other plane, in addition to the two that hit the Twin Towers, is unaccounted for and possibly heading for New York (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and he passed this information on to Rotanz. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003] Rotanz was given the same warning by a Secret Service agent who works in WTC 7. [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] Based on this information, he “surmised that [WTC 7] was potentially the next target,” Bylicki will recall. He consequently now orders all OEM employees to leave the building. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003; 9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004] A Secret Service agent, presumably the one who told Rotanz about the additional unaccounted-for planes, also reportedly advises EOC personnel to evacuate. He says, “There’s a reported third plane headed toward the East Coast and we’re warning everybody to vacate the building,” Fire Department Captain Abdo Nahmod will recall. [Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011, pp. 42 pdf file]
Some Liaisons Have Come to the Operations Center - Various city agencies were contacted after the EOC was activated and instructed to send their designated representatives to the center. None of these representatives have arrived by the time the EOC is evacuated, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293, 305] However, contradicting this claim, a number of emergency responders will recall arriving at the EOC before it is evacuated, to serve as representatives for their agencies. [City of New York, 10/11/2001; City of New York, 10/25/2001; City of New York, 12/4/2001; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011, pp. 42 pdf file]
Staffers Are Initially Slow to Leave - Personnel reportedly do not initially respond to the evacuation order with a sense of urgency. They “calmly collected personal belongings and began removing OEM records,” a report by the Mineta Transportation Institute will state. But they are subsequently “urged to abandon everything and leave the building quickly.” [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 16 pdf file] After evacuating from the EOC, they assemble in the lobby of WTC 7 and await further instructions over radio. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003] Most of them think they are only temporarily abandoning their facility and expect to return to it later in the day. They do not anticipate WTC 7 being affected by fires (see 4:10 p.m. September 11, 2001) and then collapsing late this afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 84]
Fire Commissioner Will Be Surprised That the Center Is Evacuated - Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen will be surprised when he finds that the EOC has been evacuated, since the center was designed for dealing with a crisis like the one currently taking place. “I thought that was where we should all be because that’s what [it] was built for,” he will comment. He will arrive at WTC 7 looking for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shortly before 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). When he learns that the EOC has been evacuated, he will think: “How ridiculous. We’ve got a 13-million-dollar command center and we can’t even use it.” He will say in frustration: “How can we be evacuating OEM? We really need it now.” [Essen, 2002, pp. 26; Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 230]
Time of the Evacuation Is Unclear - It is unclear exactly when the EOC is evacuated. The order to evacuate is issued at “approximately 9:30” a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] But, according to a report by the National Institute of Standards of Technology, the evacuation occurs slightly later than this, at “approximately 9:44 a.m.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109] Other accounts will suggest it may even have taken place before the second attack on the WTC occurred (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 34; Dylan Avery, 2007] Many people in the rest of WTC 7 left the building earlier on, around the time of the second attack (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, Richard Bylicki, Thomas Von Essen, Richard Rotanz, Abdo Nahmod, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The OEM command bus.The OEM command bus. [Source: New York City Office of Emergency Management]Personnel from New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) use the OEM command bus as their command post after their command center in World Trade Center Building 7 has been evacuated. [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004] The OEM command center, on the 23rd floor of WTC 7, is intended to coordinate the city’s response to emergencies, including terrorist attacks. [New York Times, 6/8/1999] However, it was evacuated at around 9:30 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, although other accounts will suggest the evacuation occurs at an earlier or later time (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 34] OEM personnel therefore now have to operate from the their command bus. [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004] The bus, known as the Interagency Command Center (ICC), is equipped with computers, a state-of-the-art communications system, and on-board electrical generation. It also has its own conference room. [Wall Street Journal, 9/21/2001; Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20 pdf file; Power, 2004, pp. 172] It can be deployed to the location of a major emergency, to serve as an on-scene command post for coordinating interagency operations and communications. [City of New York, 2001, pp. 8 pdf file] The OEM’s emergency plans and vital records are kept in WTC 7, and, due to the evacuation of the command center, are now inaccessible. Fortunately, after they move to the ICC, OEM personnel are able to implement their emergency action plans from memory and by utilizing their combined knowledge. [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20 pdf file] After the Twin Towers collapse, the ICC will move to a firehouse on Houston Street, to provide support to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his entourage, who have set up a temporary headquarters at that location (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bernard Kerik.Bernard Kerik. [Source: Publicity photo]After leaving 75 Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the group accompanying him search for somewhere to establish a new temporary headquarters. Soon after the North Tower’s collapse, they break into a vacant firehouse at the corner of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is part of the group, wants the location kept secret. He gives out the order: “Okay, we’re going to establish a command center [here]. We’re not going to let anybody know. I don’t want it over the radio. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t want them [presumably meaning the attackers] to know where we’re all going to be.” Giuliani is able to find a phone, and speaks with New York Governor George Pataki, the White House, and the Defense Department. At around 10:57 a.m., he speaks to the television channel New York 1 and offers a message of reassurance to the people of New York City. [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 108; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 15-16; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] Deciding that they need to be somewhere larger and more secure, Kerik suggests they move to the Police Academy on East 20th Street. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 342] Thus, Giuliani’s group—which now numbers more than 20 people plus a press contingent—gets into cars and drives to the academy, arriving there around midday (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Giuliani, 2002, pp. 18-19; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] This will remain as the city’s command center for several days, until it is replaced later in the week by a larger space at Pier 92 on the Hudson River. [Center for Biosecurity, 2/3/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bernard Kerik, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The New York City Police Academy.The New York City Police Academy. [Source: Heather Holland / DNAinfo]New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) establishes an alternate Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the New York City Police Academy. The OEM’s original EOC, on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center Building 7, was evacuated at around 9:30 a.m. due to a report that more commercial planes were unaccounted for (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305, 311] Since then, the OEM command bus has served as the office’s command post (see (Shortly After 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004]
Police Commissioner Recommended Going to the Police Academy - Following the collapse of the North Tower of the WTC, at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the officials with him considered where to set up their operations. After they spent some time at a firehouse (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001), Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik recommended they use the Police Academy as their command center since, he will later recall, it is “a centrally located building of modest height and design, and an unlikely target if the terrorists should strike again.” Additionally, it has “phones and meeting rooms, and could be secured easily.” Consequently, the academy, on East 20th Street, was selected as the new location for the EOC. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 340-342; 9/11 Commission, 4/6/2004; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Giuliani and his entourage arrived there at around midday and were soon at work, planning the city’s response to the terrorist attacks. [Giuliani, 2002, pp. 19]
New Operations Center Is Activated Early in the Afternoon - Meanwhile, the New York Police Department and the OEM set up the new EOC in the library at the academy. In the space of around two and a half hours, the facility is fully operational, with phone lines and computers available, and spaces for at least 30 agencies. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] It is activated at around 2:00 p.m., according to a report by Tricia Wachtendorf of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 76]
Phones and Computers Keep Going Down - OEM personnel promptly get to work, in collaboration with other agencies, on the logistics of the rescue operation. Among other things, they set about ordering supplies and equipment for the rescue effort, determining where and how they can move in trucks and heavy machinery, and developing plans for how to move and where to locate the steel and debris from the WTC site. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] However, they experience problems as they try to carry out their operations. “The phones kept going down, the little computer network we jerry-rigged kept going down, so everything had to be done with pen and paper,” Henry Jackson, deputy director for administration at the OEM who is responsible for setting up the temporary facility, will complain. The EOC will be located at the Police Academy until September 14, when it will move to a larger space at Pier 92 on the Hudson River. [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; ArcNews, 12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: New York City Police Department, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Office of Emergency Management, Bernard Kerik, Henry Jackson (OEM)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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