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Context of 'October 2001: Conference at WTC Would Have Discussed Terrorism and Building Collapses'

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New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which is located in World Trade Center Building 7, organizes a bio-terrorism drill where militant extremists attack the city with bubonic plague and Manhattan is quarantined. The “tabletop exercise” is called RED Ex—meaning “Recognition, Evaluation, and Decision-Making Exercise” —and involves about seventy different entities, agencies, and locales from the New York area. Federal legislation adopted in 1997 requires federal, state, and local authorities to conduct regular exercises as part of the Domestic Preparedness Program (DPP). The US Defense Department chose New York City as the venue for RED Ex due to its size, prominence, and level of emergency preparedness. Various high-level officials take part, including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, OEM Director Richard Sheirer, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Agencies and organizations that participate include New York City Fire Department, New York City Police Department, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The exercise is supposedly so intense that, according to one participant, “five minutes into that drill, everybody forgot it was a drill.” [New York City Government, 5/11/2001; New York City Government, 9/5/2001, pp. 74 pdf file; New York Sun, 12/20/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] According to OEM Director Richard Sheirer, “Operation RED Ex provided a proving ground and a great readiness training exercise for the many challenges the city routinely faces, such as weather events, heat emergencies, building collapses, fires, and public safety and health issues.” [New York City Government, 5/11/2001] In his prepared testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Bernard Kerik later states: “The City, through its OEM, had coordinated plans for many types of emergencies; and those plans were tested frequently.” The types of emergencies they prepared for, he states, included “building collapses” and “plane crashes.” [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] Considering Richard Sheirer’s comments, RED Ex appears to be one example where the city tests for building collapses. Details about training for airplanes crashing into New York City remain unknown. The second part of this exercise, called Tripod, is scheduled to take place in New York on September 12, 2001, but is cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks.

Entity Tags: New York City Fire Department, US Department of Defense, World Trade Center, Bernard Kerik, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, National Air College, New York City Police Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Judy Martz.Judy Martz. [Source: Publicity photo]Emergency managers from around the US, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joseph Allbaugh and representatives from the emergency management agencies of 47 states, are away from their home states at the time of the terrorist attacks, attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) at a resort in Big Sky, Montana. The main focuses of the event have included the issues of domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] The conference began on September 8, and was originally planned to continue until September 12 (see September 8-11, 2001). [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001; National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001]
Emergency Managers Learn of Attacks - At 9:00 a.m., conference attendees are scheduled to participate in a series of sessions on domestic preparedness, which has been a key topic for NEMA over the past three years. [National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] According to the New York Times, “One of the day’s main seminar topics was how to prepare for terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 9/12/2001] However, numerous pagers go off as officials are notified of the events in New York. By the time officials gather around the television in the resort’s bar to see what is happening, the second plane has hit the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the nature of the emergency is obvious. [Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002]
Emergency Managers Respond to Attacks - After the emergency managers at the conference see the coverage of the attacks on television, they “automatically organized themselves into particular groups to focus on transportation issues or to capture information,” Trina Hembree, the executive director of NEMA, will later recall. [Stateline (.org), 10/11/2001] The emergency managers, along with federal personnel and private-sector members, go about coordinating their jurisdictions’ responses to the attacks from the resort. Hotel employees add phone lines and equipment so as to enable communication and the tracking of events. A 24-hour emergency operations center is set up, and teams are organized to address specific areas, such as transportation and medical needs. The emergency managers monitor events and stay in contact with their agencies by phone, and also attend briefings at the resort, where they are updated on the national situation. [State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]
State of Emergency Declared in Montana - Partly due to concerns over the safety of the emergency management officials at the conference, Montana Governor Judy Martz declares a state of emergency. [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001] Furthermore, roads to the Big Sky resort are closed, and security for the resort is provided by the local sheriff’s department and volunteer fire department, the Montana Highway Patrol, the Montana National Guard, and the FBI.
Arrangements Made to Fly Key Officials Home - The conference’s organizers arrange for military aircraft to fly state emergency management leaders back to their capitals. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] Allbaugh and officials from several states that are directly involved in the attacks are flown home throughout the day (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), but others at the conference have to drive long distances back to their states.
Emergency Managers 'Not Where They Wanted to Be' - As one news report will later describe, when the attacks occur, “emergency managers were not where they wanted to be.” FEMA spokesman Mark Wolfson will note the inconvenient timing of the attacks, saying that FEMA officials do not know whether they were timed to catch emergency officials off guard. “That would be speculation,” he says. “But it is something that law enforcement investigators might be looking at.” [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] NEMA is the professional association of state emergency management directors. [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001] Hundreds of state emergency management officials, including almost all of the US’s state emergency management directors, and most of the senior FEMA staff are in Montana for its annual conference. [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Joseph M. Allbaugh, Judy Martz, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Emergency Management Association, Trina Hembree, Mark Wolfson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. [US News and World Report, 8/31/2003] According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Federal Aviation Administration, Montague Winfield, Charles Chambers, Patrick Gardner, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center, Val Harrison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An emergency preparedness conference was originally scheduled, prior to 9/11, to take place some time this month at the World Trade Center. It was going to include a discussion on terrorism. Reportedly, “One of the topics they were going to talk about was the danger of collapsing buildings.” Further details, such as who was organizing the event, are unknown. [Florida Times-Union, 9/12/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—an agency of the US Commerce Department’s Technology Administration—announces details of its forthcoming investigation into the collapses of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7 on 9/11. The NIST investigation aims “to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster.” It also aims to examine the activities of building occupants and emergency responders on 9/11, studying such issues as emergency communications within the WTC, the movement of people during the evacuations, and issues around persons with disabilities. Leading technical experts from industry, academia, and other laboratories, alongside NIST’s own expert staff, will participate in the investigation. Expert professionals from the private sector will also be involved. Glenn Corbett, a fire science professor at John Jay College, says, “This is going to be the most extensive building disaster investigation ever performed.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/3/2005] The investigation is formally authorized in October 2002, when the National Construction Safety Team Act is signed into law. The act, which gives NIST authorization to investigate major building failures in the US, is written largely as a result of the World Trade Center collapses. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 10/2/2002; New York Times, 5/8/2003] NIST’s investigation is originally proposed to last two years, with a budget of $16 million. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2002] However, it eventually will last three years, with its final report into the collapses of the Twin Towers being released in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). A previous analysis of the WTC collapses conducted by FEMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was completed earlier in 2002 (see May 1, 2002), but this had a budget of just $1.1 million. By the time NIST starts its investigation, much of the crucial steel debris from the WTC collapses has already been destroyed (see September 12-October 2001). They later refer to there being a “scarcity of physical evidence that is typically available in place for reconstruction of a disaster.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Glenn Corbett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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