!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

(9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Office of Emergency Management’s Operations Center Is Evacuated

Thomas Von Essen.Thomas Von Essen. [Source: Publicity photo]The Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in World Trade Center Building 7 is evacuated in response to a report that more commercial planes are unaccounted for. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] The EOC, which opened in 1999 (see June 8, 1999), is a state-of-the-art facility on the 23rd floor of WTC 7 that is intended to serve as a meeting place for city leaders in the event of an act of terrorism or other kind of crisis. [CNN, 6/7/1999; City of New York, 2/18/2001] Office of Emergency Management (OEM) officials activated it shortly after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the WTC (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bylicki, 6/19/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293]
Staffers Discussed Evacuation after the First Crash - Soon after the crash occurred, officials in the EOC “began discussing with OEM staff whether or not they should evacuate the building,” according to a report by Tricia Wachtendorf of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 77] Richard Rotanz, deputy director of the OEM, and some other officials in the EOC conducted a “threat analysis” after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002]
Staffers Want to Stay in the Operations Center - Personnel are reluctant to leave the EOC because in it they have “a tremendous amount of resources at their fingertips” and they are “best able to handle an emergency of this scale,” Wachtendorf will later write. Furthermore, there is no clear procedure to move to or establish an alternative operations center if it is abandoned. “I couldn’t think of where we would go if we left the EOC because at that time we didn’t have a backup facility,” one official will recall. There is, in fact, “no formalized evacuation plan for the EOC,” according to Wachtendorf. [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 77-79]
OEM Deputy Director Orders the Evacuation - However, Richard Bylicki, a police sergeant assigned to the OEM, was told during a call with the FAA that at least one other plane, in addition to the two that hit the Twin Towers, is unaccounted for and possibly heading for New York (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and he passed this information on to Rotanz. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003] Rotanz was given the same warning by a Secret Service agent who works in WTC 7. [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] Based on this information, he “surmised that [WTC 7] was potentially the next target,” Bylicki will recall. He consequently now orders all OEM employees to leave the building. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003; 9/11 Commission, 4/7/2004] A Secret Service agent, presumably the one who told Rotanz about the additional unaccounted-for planes, also reportedly advises EOC personnel to evacuate. He says, “There’s a reported third plane headed toward the East Coast and we’re warning everybody to vacate the building,” Fire Department Captain Abdo Nahmod will recall. [Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011, pp. 42 pdf file]
Some Liaisons Have Come to the Operations Center - Various city agencies were contacted after the EOC was activated and instructed to send their designated representatives to the center. None of these representatives have arrived by the time the EOC is evacuated, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 293, 305] However, contradicting this claim, a number of emergency responders will recall arriving at the EOC before it is evacuated, to serve as representatives for their agencies. [City of New York, 10/11/2001; City of New York, 10/25/2001; City of New York, 12/4/2001; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011, pp. 42 pdf file]
Staffers Are Initially Slow to Leave - Personnel reportedly do not initially respond to the evacuation order with a sense of urgency. They “calmly collected personal belongings and began removing OEM records,” a report by the Mineta Transportation Institute will state. But they are subsequently “urged to abandon everything and leave the building quickly.” [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 16 pdf file] After evacuating from the EOC, they assemble in the lobby of WTC 7 and await further instructions over radio. [Bylicki, 6/19/2003] Most of them think they are only temporarily abandoning their facility and expect to return to it later in the day. They do not anticipate WTC 7 being affected by fires (see 4:10 p.m. September 11, 2001) and then collapsing late this afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Wachtendorf, 2004, pp. 84]
Fire Commissioner Will Be Surprised That the Center Is Evacuated - Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen will be surprised when he finds that the EOC has been evacuated, since the center was designed for dealing with a crisis like the one currently taking place. “I thought that was where we should all be because that’s what [it] was built for,” he will comment. He will arrive at WTC 7 looking for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shortly before 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). When he learns that the EOC has been evacuated, he will think: “How ridiculous. We’ve got a 13-million-dollar command center and we can’t even use it.” He will say in frustration: “How can we be evacuating OEM? We really need it now.” [Essen, 2002, pp. 26; Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 230]
Time of the Evacuation Is Unclear - It is unclear exactly when the EOC is evacuated. The order to evacuate is issued at “approximately 9:30” a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 305] But, according to a report by the National Institute of Standards of Technology, the evacuation occurs slightly later than this, at “approximately 9:44 a.m.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109] Other accounts will suggest it may even have taken place before the second attack on the WTC 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). [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 34; Dylan Avery, 2007] Many people in the rest of WTC 7 left the building earlier on, around the time of the second attack (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, Richard Bylicki, Thomas Von Essen, Richard Rotanz, Abdo Nahmod, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike