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Context of 'December 18, 2001: Residents near Ground Zero Protest Lack of Government Action over WTC Environmental Issues'

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New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conducts a training exercise called Operation ICE, which is designed to prepare emergency response workers for the possibility of a terrorist attack and includes a simulated chemical attack near the World Trade Center. (City of New York 11/9/1997; Roane 11/9/1997; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004) Operation ICE is the largest terrorism response exercise ever conducted by the city. Its aim, according to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is “to see what would happen if in fact there was a chemical attack and to see how police, fire, EMS [emergency medical services], hospitals, the FBI… would all respond.” (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997)
Volunteers Go to Hospitals with the Symptoms of Chemical Exposure - Operation ICE incorporates a series of field and tabletop exercises. It consists of three interconnected training events, called MEDEX, FIELDEX, and INFRAEX. MEDEX, apparently the first event to take place, is held on November 8. Forty-one city hospitals are involved in it. The aim is for the emergency workers who participate to learn how to deal with and treat “walk-in, self-referred” patients who arrive at emergency rooms minutes or hours after they have been exposed to a chemical agent. Volunteers, playing the victims, visit the hospitals, complaining about various symptoms. Hospital personnel have to determine the type of chemical exposure that matches the symptoms and decide how to treat the victims. (Roane 11/9/1997; Dittmara 3/1998)
Field Exercise Is Held near the WTC - FIELDEX, which is the centerpiece of Operation ICE, takes place a day later, on November 9. This is an elaborate field training exercise involving a simulated chemical attack at a large public gathering. It is directed by Jerome Hauer, head of the OEM, and more than 600 emergency response workers take part. They belong to agencies including the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, the FBI, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the Departments of Defense, Environmental Protection, Health, and Transportation. (City of New York 11/9/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997) The exercise is held less than a mile away from the WTC, on Greenwich Street, between Hubert and North Moore Streets. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997) It takes place “eerily in the shadow of the Twin Towers,” Giuliani will later comment. (Giuliani 2002, pp. 63)
Islamic Terrorists Release a Lethal Gas in the Simulation - The scenario for the exercise involves a rally held by a controversial political group. This is “a greed-is-good kind of group,” Giuliani will say. A speaker at the rally explains the group’s philosophy, which gets his listeners angry, and two or three of them consequently attack the group. They release VX, a deadly nerve gas, killing 21 people and injuring at least 27. The mock attackers are Islamic terrorists, according to Giuliani. Red Cross volunteers and police cadets pretend to be victims of the attack, while several mannequins represent people who have been killed. FIELDEX lasts for four hours. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004)
Real Bomb Goes Off before the Exercise Starts - Participating emergency response workers are unaware of the details of the scenario before the exercise begins. “[W]e know to be prepared, that it is going to happen, but haven’t been given any particulars,” one law enforcement official comments. (Roane 11/9/1997) Local residents reportedly approve of the exercise, despite the disruption it causes. One woman remarks that she feels it “needs to be done” because, she says, “Living downtown, we are a direct target for this kind of threat, with the World Trade Center and everything.” (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997) Ironically, two hours before the exercise commences, a real but crude bomb explodes in front of an office building a few blocks away from where the exercise is held. No advance warning is given but, fortunately, no one is injured. No one will take responsibility for the bombing. (Kennedy 11/10/1997)
Exercise Is Mostly Funded by the Defense Department - The INFRAEX segment of Operation ICE consists of a workshop that considers how the simulated attack would affect the city’s infrastructure, and how any adverse effects could be minimized and corrected. The date when this part of the exercise is held is unstated. (Dittmara 3/1998) Operation ICE is the culmination of a yearlong disaster preparedness project. (City of New York 11/9/1997) Most of the funding for it has come from a grant from the Department of Defense. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997) The exercise is intended to be a model for cities throughout the US. (Dittmara 3/1998)

A training exercise based around a simulated terrorist attack is held at New York’s new emergency command center on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center Building 7. The exercise, which lasts 24 hours, is intended to test New York’s response to a biological attack. Many city, state, and federal agency officials, including officials from the Department of Defense, participate. The exercise takes place as the new emergency command center is being unveiled, with a small group of reporters being escorted through it today (see June 8, 1999). (CNN 6/7/1999; Blood 6/8/1999; Miller 6/8/1999)

An article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, titled, “Environmental Aftermath,” suggests that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers “may have serious long term environmental health effects on those in harm’s way, including children, office workers, rescuers and residents.” It cites “asbestos, lead and PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) present in the dust created by the Twin Towers collapse as among the most potentially serious lingering exposures to the community, including rescue workers, office workers and the more than 20,000 residents, and 3,000 children, who live within half a mile of Ground Zero.” (Environmental Health Perspectives 11/2001; Environmental Health Perspectives 12/4/2001)

More than 100 residents gather at New York City Hall to protest the city and federal governments’ response to the WTC environmental fallout. Demonstrators are concerned that contaminated air is affecting the health of residents, students, and those working in Lower Manhattan. Peggy Sarlin of the World Trade Center Environmental Emergency Group tells NY1 News, “We are frustrated. We are very scared about our health, both short term and long term. We are angry and we intend to do something about it.” (NY1 News 2/28/2001)


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