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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK
'Failures' in NY attack response
Firefighter hats overlook Ground Zero
Firefighters symbolised the heroism of the response
New York's firefighters were hindered by a series of failures in their response to the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center last September, according to a draft report.

Faulty radio equipment allegedly prevented those on the upper floors of the twin towers from heeding an evacuation order half an hour before the first tower collapsed.

Lack of information hindered fire commanders' ability to evaluate the overall situation

Draft report
The draft - parts of which were obtained by the New York Times newspaper - also cites lapses in discipline and coordination that have caused shock in New York.

To many New Yorkers, the 343 firefighters and 23 New York police officers who died when the towers collapsed on 11 September have acquired hero status.

It has been difficult for them to read a report that paints a picture of patchy communication between police and fire departments and an ill-prepared response to the disaster.

The report's main criticisms concern:

  • Equipment: Radio communications were sporadic and an evacuation order received "no acknowledgment by firefighters". Problems with radio reception in subways and high-rise buildings had been known about for years but not addressed, for example by fitting radio boosters. And radios up to a decade old had replaced new equipment deemed problematic.

  • Coordination: An almost complete lack of coordination between fire and police departments meant fire commanders had no access to information from police helicopters circling above the towers, tracking their structural integrity and the course of the fires. "This lack of information hindered their ability to evaluate the overall situation," the report says. Off-duty firefighters were not sure where to report, and coordination between different stations was disorganised.

  • Discipline: Firefighters rushed to the World Trade Center without checking in at designated command centres - and then went up into the Twin Towers without talking to their officers. Even some of the fire department's 32-member executive showed little discipline - 26 simply went to the scene, and many did not know what role to perform. Some of them had not had routine refresher training for 15 years.

Fireman running up World Trade Center stairs
The report does acknowledge "remarkable" aspects of the response
The report, which was compiled over five months by consultants McKinsey & Company, suggests several ways to improve service. It also highlights problems among medical response teams and police.

It does not single out any individuals for censure and praises some aspects of the fire department's handling of the crisis.

For example, fire departments continued to provide good coverage for other emergencies, with response times increasing on average by only one minute.

It also says that, in some respects, the department's response was remarkable.

However, these acknowledgements and the report's attempt to investigate the events of 11 September sensitively, without diminishing the stature of the people who lost their lives, are unlikely to dispel the impact of the report when it is published.

The BBC's Jane Standley reports
"Poor radio signals meant they could not communicate properly with their commanders"
See also:

03 Aug 02 | Americas
07 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
24 Sep 01 | Americas
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