During this past year, I have been searching for answers about why there were so few options for those innocent people trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. My husband, Rich, worked for Aon Corporation at 2 World Trade on the 103rd floor. I was told that he was last seen waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor Sky Lobby. Injured when the second plane's wing tip crashed through that floor and the walls fell in, he was still alive waiting to be rescued when the buildings collapsed.
We must address the critical issues relating to the emergency response to the September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. I am deeply concerned about the information that has come to light in the past year regarding the fire department1s inoperable radios, lack of coordination with the police department and other emergency agencies, and unfamiliarity with the World Trade Center.
It is apparent to me that the input of fire experts must play a more important role in the development, design and construction of buildings. The fire service should no longer be left on the sidelines to come into the game only after the buildings are up, left to figure out how best to defend and evacuate them in an emergency. The fire service needs to have a voice in how to equip a building so that they can put out fires and rescue people more quickly, lowering the potential for loss of life, both uniform and civilian.
We can never again allow a building to be built that is immune from building and fire codes, as the World Trade Center was. The fire department had no authority over those buildings, and could not force the Port Authority to comply with their recommendations. If the Port Authority does not begin following building and fire codes, they should leave the real estate business.
Regarding coordination between the police and fire departments, the continuous turf wars must cease. The various agencies charged with the safety of the public need to learn to work together. The lives and safety of our loved ones are at stake. The agencies must realize that the first and foremost responsibility is the safety of the public, put aside the competitive nature that has been in place for many, many years, and start anew.
I was also deeply disturbed to find that there was no helicopter rescue available to those trapped on the upper floors of the towers. When was the decision made to no longer attempt rooftop rescues, and who told the occupants of those towers about it? It has been written that many occupants of the World Trade Center were believed that in case of an emergency or devastating fire, that they could be rescued from the roof. Instead, many found that the doors were locked leading to their eventual doom.
It is clear to me that there has to be a very concerted effort made to take a hard look at what happened on September 11th. We need to take a good look around this great city of ours. We need to be aware of potential dangers. We need to find ways to work together to ensure that if there is ever another devastating event, we will be aware of what needs to be done and can communicate those instructions and dangers to others.
I keep hearing about "lessons learned." But over a year later, some of the simple issues have not yet been addressed or changed. How many reports or meetings will it take to make use of these lessons?
Monica Gabrielle is co-chairperson of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign.