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(9:52 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Police Commander Keeps His Men Away from the WTC, Thereby Possibly Saving Their Lives

Joseph Morris.Joseph Morris. [Source: Publicity photo]Inspector Joseph Morris, a commanding officer with the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD), tells numerous PAPD officers to initially stay away from the Twin Towers after they arrive near the World Trade Center, thereby likely preventing many of them from being killed when the South Tower collapses. [Police, 9/1/2002; Law Officer, 8/16/2011] Morris was in his office at New York’s La Guardia Airport when he heard someone yell out that an aircraft had crashed into the WTC. After turning on the television and seeing the images of the burning North Tower, he gave the order for all his available officers to go to the WTC. “I initiated a mobilization of personnel following long-held department plans and procedures for response to the World Trade Center for aircraft disasters and high-rise fires,” he will later describe. Morris and 17 colleagues head out and arrive in the vicinity of the WTC “maybe six to seven minutes” before the South Tower collapses, Morris will estimate, which would be at around 9:52 a.m. to 9:53 a.m. About 40 to 50 PAPD officers are at the location at this time and Morris is the highest-ranking commander among them. [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file]
Officers Are Told to Stay Away from the WTC - The PAPD officers with Morris are keen to rush into the Twin Towers and get involved with the rescue operation. Normally, they would go to the lobby of the North Tower in an emergency like the current one. Morris, though, tells them to stay back while he assesses the situation. The decision is made for the officers to “break up into groups of three or four, with a supervisor,” and “get [their] bunker gear on,” Morris will say. He instructs them “not to go anywhere until I came up with a plan.” [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002 pdf file; Police, 9/1/2002; Law Officer, 8/16/2011]
Commander Thinks There May Be Few People Left to Rescue - Morris will say his caution about allowing PAPD officers into the Twin Towers at the current time is partly because he sees very few civilians coming his way up West Street and this leads him to question how many people are left at the WTC to be rescued. [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003] Some other Port Authority employees, in addition to the PAPD officers, are at the same location as Morris and Morris tells them, too, to stay away from the WTC. “I informed them they should stay at that location until more information was gathered for responses,” he will say. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file]
Commander's Decision Likely Saves Lives - Morris’s decision to keep PAPD officers away from the WTC will be credited with saving the lives of people who may have been killed when the South Tower collapsed, at 9:59 a.m. (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), if they had headed to the Twin Towers. Alan Reiss, director of the Port Authority’s World Trade Department, will say that in retrospect, he believes it “most certainly saved lives of at least some of those officers held back.” [9/11 Commission, 11/3/2003] Law Officer magazine will describe it as a decision “that proved to be a lifesaver for many.” [Law Officer, 8/16/2011] Police magazine will call it one of “a couple of key decisions” Morris makes “that saved his department even greater tragedy” today. [Police, 9/1/2002] A few minutes after arriving near the WTC, Morris will decide to head to the incident command post in the North Tower to meet with other professionals who are assembled there. He will be going toward it with Lieutenant Emiliano Sepulveda, a colleague of his, when the South Tower starts to come down. He will run north up West Street and then find protection inside the PAPD’s command bus. [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; Law Officer, 8/16/2011]

Entity Tags: Emiliano Sepulveda, Joseph M. Morris, Alan Reiss, Port Authority Police Department

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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