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Context of '8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001: Office of Emergency Management Preparing for Bioterrorism Exercise; Opens Its Command Center'

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New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) holds regular interagency training exercises in the years preceding 9/11, aiming to carry out a tabletop or field exercise every eight to 12 weeks. Mayor Rudy Giuliani is personally involved in many of these. The exercises are very lifelike. Giuliani will later recall, “We used to take pictures of these trial runs and they were so realistic that people who saw them would ask when the event shown in the photograph had occurred.” Scenarios drilled include a sarin gas attack in Manhattan, anthrax attacks, and truck bombs. One exercise, which takes place in May 2001, is based on terrorists attacking New York with bubonic plague (see May 11, 2001). Another, conducted in conjunction with the New York Port Authority, includes a simulated plane crash. Just one week before 9/11, the OEM is preparing a tabletop exercise with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to develop plans for business continuity in New York’s Financial District—where the World Trade Center is located—after a terrorist attack (see (September 4, 2001)). OEM staffers are actually preparing for a bioterrorism exercise on the morning of 9/11 (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). Jerome Hauer, OEM director from 1996 to February 2000, will recall, “We looked at every conceivable threat that anyone on the staff could think of, be it natural or intentional, but not the use of aircraft as missiles.” He will tell the 9/11 Commission: “We had aircraft crash drills on a regular basis. The general consensus in the city was that a plane hitting a building… was that it would be a high-rise fire.… There was never a sense, as I said in my testimony, that aircraft were going to be used as missiles.” [Time, 12/22/2001; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 62-63; Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 15, 30; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004 pdf file] The OEM was created in 1996 by Giuliani to manage New York’s response to major incidents, including terrorist attacks (see 1996). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 283-284]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Jerome Hauer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Giuliani’s emergency command center.Giuliani’s emergency command center. [Source: CNN]New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani opens a $13 million emergency command center on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center Building 7. [Newsday, 9/12/2001] The center is intended to coordinate responses to various emergencies, including natural disasters like hurricanes or floods, and terrorist attacks. The 50,000 square foot center has reinforced, bulletproof, and bomb-resistant walls, its own air supply and water tank, beds, showers to accommodate 30 people, and three backup generators. It also has rooms full of video monitors from where the mayor can oversee police and fire department responses. It is to be staffed around the clock and is intended as a meeting place for city leaders in the event of an act of terrorism. [CNN, 6/7/1999; London Times, 9/12/2001; Glanz and Lipton, 2004, pp. 233] The center is ridiculed as “Rudy’s bunker.” [Time, 12/22/2001] Author Philip Shenon will later comment that it “seemed the supreme example of how Giuliani’s ego and arrogance knew no bounds after four years in office,” and: “WABC Radio mocked Giuliani with a name-that-bunker contest for its listeners. Among the most popular entries: ‘Rudy’s Nuclear Winter Palace’ and ‘The Nut Shell.’” It is criticized because of the cost and because of the location, next to the WTC towers, one of the city’s top terrorist targets. In addition, the high floor it is on means it is vulnerable to power, water, and elevator outages. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 346-347] Most controversial is the 6,000-gallon fuel tank. In 1998 and 1999, Fire Department officials warn that the fuel tank violates city fire codes and poses a hazard. According to one Fire Department memorandum, if the tank were to catch fire it could produce “disaster.” Building 7 will be destroyed late in the day on 9/11; some suspect this tank helps explains why. [New York Times, 12/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Office of Emergency Management, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

New York City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) set up at Pier 92 on the Hudson River following the 9/11 attacks.New York City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) set up at Pier 92 on the Hudson River following the 9/11 attacks. [Source: ArcNews]At Pier 92 on the Hudson River, preparations are underway for a training exercise due to take place there the following day. The exercise, called Tripod, which had been scheduled months earlier, is intended to test how well New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) can administer treatment in response to a biological-terrorism attack (see September 12, 2001). [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 355] Pier 92, located just over four miles north-northwest of the World Trade Center, has been set up as a model distribution station where the simulated victims will be treated. [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 15 and 20] Ken Longert, the owner of a theatrical lighting business, arrives at the pier at 7:00 a.m. to help get the place ready for the exercise. He will later recall, “Two or three hundred cadets [presumably with the New York police and fire departments] were there, learning the proper procedures in case some kind of disaster hit New York.” Longert will recall that, seconds after the second WTC tower is hit at 9:03, “all the people from OEM disappeared” from the pier. [DiMarco, 2007, pp. 457-458] After OEM’s original command center is destroyed when WTC 7—where it is located—collapses (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Pier 92 will be selected as the location for the substitute command center. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Members of OEM staff have also arrived early this morning at the OEM offices in WTC 7 to prepare for the exercise (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 15]

Entity Tags: Tripod, Office of Emergency Management, Ken Longert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John OdermattJohn Odermatt [Source: Queens Gazette]New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is responsible for coordinating the city’s response to major incidents, including terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 283-284] Its offices are in Building 7 of the World Trade Center. Today is reportedly “going to be a busy day at the OEM,” as staff members have come to work early to prepare for Tripod, a major biological-terrorism training exercise scheduled for September 12 (see September 12, 2001). Their building shakes when the North Tower is hit at 8:46 a.m. OEM Commissioner John Odermatt initially believes a freak accident has occurred involving a ground-to-air missile, but soon after, OEM is informed that a plane hit the North Tower. Immediately, OEM staff members begin to activate their emergency command center, located on the 23rd floor of WTC 7 (see June 8, 1999). [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 15] They call agencies such as the New York fire and police departments, and the Department of Health, and direct them to send their designated representatives to the OEM. They also call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and request at least five federal Urban Search and Rescue Teams. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293] According to the 9/11 Commission, OEM’s command center will be evacuated at 9:30 a.m. due to reports of further unaccounted for planes (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). By that time, none of the outside agency liaisons will have arrived. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] Other accounts indicate the command center may be evacuated earlier, possibly even before the second tower is hit (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, Tripod, John Odermatt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the first World Trade Center tower is hit, Barry Jennings, a City Housing Authority worker, and Michael Hess, New York’s corporation counsel, head up to the emergency command center of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which is on the 23rd floor of WTC 7. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001] The center, opened in 1999, is intended to coordinate responses to various emergencies, including terrorist attacks (see June 8, 1999). [CNN, 6/7/1999] However, Hess and Jennings find no one there. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109-110; BBC, 7/6/2008]
Center Is Empty; Jennings Warned to Leave - Jennings will describe that, when he arrives at the emergency command center, “To my amazement, nobody’s there.” He says: “I saw coffee that was still hot, that was still smoldering. They had screens all over the place, but the screens were blank. So I didn’t know what was going on.” He then phones several individuals, including one of his superiors. When Jennings says where he is, the superior responds: “Get out of there. Get out of there now.” Hess then runs back into the center, after having found the stairwell, and says: “We’re the only ones up here. We gotta get out of here.” [Dylan Avery, 2007; BBC, 7/6/2008]
9/11 Commission Claims Command Center Not Evacuated until Later - Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, “After the South Tower was hit [at 9:03], OEM senior leadership decided to remain in its ‘bunker’ and continue conducting operations, even though all civilians had been evacuated from 7 WTC.” The Commission will claim the emergency command center is not evacuated until 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] But according to the London Independent, Hess and Jennings arrive there by the time the South Tower is hit, which suggests the center is evacuated earlier than officially claimed. [Independent, 9/13/2001] Jennings himself will recall, “I had to be inside on the 23rd floor when the second plane hit.” [Dylan Avery, 2007] The possibility that the emergency command center is evacuated earlier than the 9/11 Commission claims is partly confirmed by OEM Commissioner John Odermatt, who later says that after the first plane hit the WTC, he left only two staffers there (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 34] Jennings and Hess subsequently head down the stairs, but will become trapped in WTC 7, and have to be rescued by firefighters (see 12:10 p.m.-12:15 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109-110]

Entity Tags: Michael Hess, Office of Emergency Management, Barry Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas Von Essen.Thomas Von Essen. [Source: Publicity photo]The headquarters of New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which is on the 23rd floor of WTC Building 7, is evacuated at approximately 9:30 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission. The headquarters was opened in 1999 and was specifically intended to coordinate the city’s response to disasters such as terrorist attacks (see June 8, 1999). A senior OEM official orders the evacuation after being told by a Secret Service agent that additional commercial planes are unaccounted for (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 283-284 and 305] OEM personnel do not initially respond to the evacuation order with a sense of urgency. According to a 2003 report by the Mineta Transportation Institute, “They calmly collected personal belongings and began removing OEM records, but they were urged to abandon everything and leave the building quickly.” [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 16] However, there are contradictory accounts of when the OEM command center is evacuated. The National Institute of Standards of Technology (NIST) claims the evacuation happens slightly later than stated by the 9/11 Commission, at “approximately 9:44 a.m.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109] Other accounts suggest it may have happened before 9:03, when the second attack occurred (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen will arrive at WTC 7 shortly before the collapse of the South Tower, looking for Mayor Giuliani. Learning that the OEM headquarters has been evacuated, he later claims that he thinks, “How ridiculous. We’ve got a thirteen-million-dollar command center and we can’t even use it.” [Essen, 2002, pp. 26] He says in frustration, “How can we be evacuating OEM? We really need it now.” He will later tell an interviewer that he’d headed for the OEM headquarters because, “I thought that was where we should all be because that’s what [it] was built for.” [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 230] All civilians were evacuated from WTC 7 earlier on, around the time the second WTC tower was hit (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Thomas Von Essen, Office of Emergency Management

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before 9/11, New York City was scheduled to have a major terrorism training exercise on this day, in a large commercial warehouse on the Hudson River. Called Tripod, it was intended to test how well the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) could administer treatment in the event of a biological-terrorism attack. More than 1,000 Police Academy cadets and Fire Department trainees were recruited to act the parts of terrified civilians afflicted with a range of medical conditions. Various individuals were invited to watch, including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the police and fire commissioners, and representatives of the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Presumably many have already arrived for the exercise when the 9/11 attacks occur (see 7:00 a.m. -9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because Pier 92, where Tripod was due to take place, has been set up ready for the exercise, OEM staff are able to move there and quickly convert it into a large emergency operations center when their original command center (in WTC Building 7) is evacuated and later destroyed during 9/11. Thus, within 31 hours of the attacks, OEM has a functional facility able to manage the search and rescue effort, just four miles north-northwest of the WTC site. [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Tripod is the follow-up to a previous training exercise in New York, called RED Ex (see May 11, 2001). [New York Sun, 12/20/2003] Due to the 9/11 attacks, Tripod is called off, but will eventually take place on May 22, 2002. [City of New York, 5/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of Emergency Management, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Tripod, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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