The Response on the Ground

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Commissioner John F. Lehman questioning the former chief of the Port Authority of New York. From government video of 9/11 commission hearings.
In May of 2004, New York city officials testified before the 9/11 Commission. Commissioner John Lehman told them the commission had to scrutinize the city's response to the September 11 attacks, to help prepare for the next time terrorists strike.

"Every intelligence person inside and outside the government has told us that they are coming again," he said. "They are going to attack again here in the United States, and very likely New York is where it will happen again."

Lehman said New York remains a prime target because "we're facing an enemy whose principal goal is to create massive civilian casualties in the highest profile environment that they can."

The commission's investigation uncovered new information about problems with New York's emergency response systems. It shows that again and again, on September 11, people had to make quick decisions based on poor information or no information. The lack of information cost many people their lives.

When the first plane hit Tower 1, many people were trapped above the impact zone. Those who could escape didn't hear an order to evacuate, because the emergency intercom system was damaged. Most people decided to leave anyway. But some people had trouble negotiating the stairways. Tenants of the towers had never been required to do evacuation drills, and they didn't know the quickest ways down. Some stairways came to an end. People had to traverse hallways to find another stairwell down. Some stairway doors were locked or jammed.

Claire McIntyre, Manager, Administration Services, American Bureau of Shipping. From government video of 9/11 commission hearings.
The commission's investigators conducted videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors, including Claire McIntyre, who worked for the American Bureau of Shipping. McIntyre had trouble escaping from Tower 1.

"For some reason, we had to go down a long hallway and then when we got to the end of it, it was a locked door," said McIntyre, "so we couldn't go any further."

Some people in Tower 2 saw the explosion from the neighboring tower, or saw the smoke. Brian Clark, another witness interviewed by the commission's investigators, was a Vice President at Euro Broker in Tower 2. He heard the explosion as the first plane hit Tower 1.

"I spun in my chair," he said. "And just two yards from me outside the glass, 84 floors in the air, was swirling flames."

Some of the people in Tower 2 started to evacuate, but the Port Authority ordered them to stay where they were.

"Strobe lights flashed, the siren gave its little 'whoop whoop,'" Clark said. "And I heard a familiar voice say, 'Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen, Building 2 is secure. There is no need to evacuate Building 2. If you are in the midst of evacuation, you may use the re-entry doors and the elevators to return to your office'."

Continued: part 2

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