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Context of '9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001: Fighters to New York City Possibly Scrambled 56 Minutes Late, According to Mayor Giuliani and Early Reports'

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Richard SheirerRichard Sheirer [Source: Publicity photo]Richard Sheirer is in a meeting at New York City Hall when he is informed by telephone of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Sheirer is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which was set up in 1996 to coordinate the city’s overall response to major incidents, including terrorism (see 1996). It has an emergency command center on the 23rd floor of WTC 7, specially intended for coordinating the response to catastrophes such as terrorist attacks (see June 8, 1999). Yet instead of going to this, Sheirer heads to the North Tower, and arrives at the fire command post set up in its lobby before the second crash at 9:03 a.m. [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] John Odermatt, Sheirer’s top deputy, also goes to the North Tower and says that, after the first plane hit, he leaves only two staffers at the command center. John Farmer, who heads the 9/11 Commission unit that assesses the city response to the attacks, will find it “strange that Sheirer, four OEM deputies, and a field responder went straight to the North Tower… rather than to the nearby emergency command center.” Journalists Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins will conclude, “[T]he command center was out of business from the outset.” [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 31 and 34] Sheirer stays at the North Tower lobby until soon after 9:30 a.m., when Mayor Giuliani requests he joins him at the temporary command post at 75 Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] John Farmer will later complain, “We [the 9/11 Commission] tried to get a sense of what Sheirer was really doing. We tried to figure it out from the videos. We couldn’t tell. Everybody from OEM was with him, virtually the whole chain of command. Some of them should have been at the command center.” Fire Captain Kevin Culley, who works as a field responder at OEM, is later asked why most of the OEM’s top brass were with him at the scene of the incident. He says, “I don’t know what they were doing. It was Sheirer’s decision to go there on his own. The command center would normally be the focus of a major event and that would be where I would expect the director to be.” When the 9/11 Commission later investigates OEM’s shortcomings on 9/11, “No rationale for Sheirer’s prolonged lobby stay, no information conveyed to commanders, and no steps to coordinate the response” will be discovered. [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 31-32 and 34]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, John Odermatt, Kevin Culley, Richard Sheirer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Joseph Callan.Joseph Callan. [Source: FDNY]Emergency responders in the lobby of the north WTC tower hear an unconfirmed report of a third plane heading toward New York. Consequently, Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Callan orders all firefighters to evacuate the tower. The third plane report is soon found to be incorrect. One firefighter tells a colleague over radio, “That plane is ours, I repeat, it is ours.” Rescue operations therefore continue. [New York Times, 7/7/2002; New York City Fire Department, 8/19/2002, pp. 32; Fire Engineering, 9/2002; Associated Press, 11/16/2002] The source of the incorrect report is apparently Richard Rotanz, the deputy director of the New York Office of Emergency Management (OEM), who is reportedly in the OEM command center on the 23rd floor of WTC Building 7. A Secret Service agent in WTC 7 reportedly told him there were unconfirmed reports of other planes in the air. When OEM Director Richard Sheirer called Rotanz some time after the second WTC tower was hit, Rotanz relayed this information, telling him there were “still planes unaccounted for that may [be] heading for New York.” Sheirer then told people in the North Tower lobby “that another plane was on the way.” Journalists Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, in their book Grand Illusion, blame Sheirer for “instantly converting unspecific information into a very specific false alarm.” This false alarm quickly ends up on fire and police department dispatches. Sheirer is apparently so unnerved by it that he instructs the police department aviation unit to not let another plane hit the WTC. As he will later tell the 9/11 Commission, though, “We were grasping at straws,” since no police helicopter could “stop a commercial jet going over 400 miles per hour.” [Firehouse Magazine, 9/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 32-33] Emergency medical technician Richard Zarrillo is currently in WTC 7, and is informed by an OEM rep there of the alleged third plane inbound for New York. While the rest of Building 7 was evacuated earlier on (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), this false threat reportedly leads to the evacuation of the OEM command center as well (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [City of New York, 10/25/2001] (However, some accounts indicate the command center may have been evacuated earlier (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Soon after hearing this false report of a third inbound plane, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and OEM Director Richard Sheirer will all leave the North Tower lobby and relocate to a temporary command post on Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kerik, 2001, pp. 334; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 342]

Entity Tags: Richard Zarrillo, Joseph Callan, Richard Rotanz, Richard Sheirer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the accounts of numerous witnesses on the ground near the World Trade Center, military fighter jets are first noticed flying over Manhattan either shortly before or soon after the second collapse, at 10:28 a.m. Some witnesses recall fighters arriving just before this collapse:
bullet Emergency medical technicians Dulce McCorvey and Michael D’Angelo hear fighters flying over Manhattan at unspecified times after the first tower’s collapse. [City of New York, 10/3/2001; City of New York, 10/24/2001]
bullet Fire Lieutenant Sean O’Malley and firefighters Pete Giudetti and Dan Potter notice jet fighters flying overhead soon before the second collapse. [City of New York, 10/12/2001; City of New York, 12/6/2001; Smith, 2002, pp. 49-50]
Other witnesses say the fighters arrive soon after this collapse:
bullet Deputy Fire Chief Robert Browne, police officer Peter Moog, and emergency medical technicians Richard Zarrillo and Jason Katz notice fighters overhead immediately after, or fairly soon after, the second tower’s collapse. [City of New York, 10/24/2001; City of New York, 10/25/2001; City of New York, 12/20/2001; Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 79-80]
bullet Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and Office of Emergency Management Director Richard Sheirer are heading north together after leaving their temporary command post on Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In some accounts, all three of them recollect hearing the first military jets overhead soon after the second tower’s collapse. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 339-340; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 14; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file] However, according to another account, Giuliani hears the first jet slightly earlier, at around 10:20 a.m. And, in his private testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Kerik claims to have heard a fighter jet coming when he was heading to the temporary command post on Barclay Street, i.e. shortly before 9:50 a.m. [Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 348-349]
A few witnesses claim the fighters arrive earlier on, before the first collapse at 9:59 a.m.:
bullet Emergency medical technician Frank Puma and Port Authority Freedom of Information Administrator Cathy Pavelec say they see fighter jets overhead at unspecified times before the first collapse. [City of New York, 12/12/2001; Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 68]
The fighter(s) are presumably the F-15s launched from Otis Air Force Base at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will claim that these arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is significantly earlier than most of the witnesses on the ground recall.

Entity Tags: Dulce McCorvey, Jason Katz, Frank Puma, Dan Potter, Sean O’Malley, Pete Giudetti, Peter Moog, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Robert Browne, Richard Sheirer, Michael D’Angelo, Cathy Pavelec, Richard Zarrillo, Bernard Kerik

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After spending about 40 minutes at the disaster scene, on the World Trade Center site, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani relocates to a small office building at 75 Barclay Street, about two blocks from the WTC, hoping to establish a command post there. His usual command center, in WTC 7, was evacuated at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). With him are several colleagues, including Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Office of Emergency Management Director Richard Sheirer. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 334; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 10; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 10] While at Barclay Street, Giuliani is able to get in touch with the White House, and speaks to Chris Henick, the deputy political director to President Bush (see 9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Immediately afterwards, he receives a phone call from Vice President Cheney, though this is cut off before either one is able to speak. Giuliani also claims he is given advance warning of the South Tower’s collapse while at this command post (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the South Tower collapses outside, Giuliani and his colleagues all decide to evacuate, going through the basement into a neighboring building, 100 Church Street. They will then leave this and head north, being joined by cameras and press. [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 348]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Richard Sheirer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s 9/11 Commission testimony in 2004, about one minute before the first WTC tower falls, he is able to reach the White House by phone. Speaking to Chris Henick, deputy political director to President Bush, Giuliani learns the Pentagon has been hit and he asks about fighter cover over New York City. Henick replies, “The jets were dispatched 12 minutes ago and they should be there very shortly, and they should be able to defend you against further attack.” [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] If this is true, it means fighters scramble from the Otis base around 9:46 a.m., not at 8:52 a.m., as most other accounts have claimed. While Giuliani’s account may seem wildly off, it is consistent with reports shortly after 9/11. In the first few days, acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, and a NORAD spokesman, Marine Corps Major Mike Snyder, claimed no fighters were scrambled anywhere until after the Pentagon was hit. [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Boston Globe, 9/15/2001] This story only changed on the evening of September 14, 2001, when CBS reported, “contrary to early reports, US Air Force jets did get into the air on Tuesday while the attacks were under way.” [CBS News, 9/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Mike Snyder, Chris Henick, Richard B. Myers, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will become well known for his walking press conferences in the middle of the 9/11 crisis.Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will become well known for his walking press conferences in the middle of the 9/11 crisis. [Source: Time Magazine/ Salient Stills]Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., one senior New York fire chief recommends to the Fire Department Chief of Department that there might be a WTC collapse in a few hours, and, therefore, fire units probably shouldn’t ascend much above the sixtieth floor (presumably this assumes the collapse would be gradual so those on lower floors would still have time to evacuate). This advice is not followed or not passed on. Apparently, no other senior fire chiefs mention or foresee the possibility of the WTC towers falling. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] However, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani later recounts, “I went down to the scene and we set up headquarters at 75 Barclay Street, which was right there, with the police commissioner, the fire commissioner, the head of emergency management, and we were operating out of there when we were told that the World Trade Center was going to collapse. And it did collapse before we could actually get out of the building, so we were trapped in the building for ten, 15 minutes, and finally found an exit and got out, walked north, and took a lot of people with us.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001] As can be seen by another account of similar events, this happens before the first WTC tower falls, not the second. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] It is not clear who tells Giuliani to evacuate when no fire chiefs were considering the possibility of an imminent collapse. However, an EMT is also given a message around this time, warning that the towers are going to collapse. The origin of this information is apparently the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, so this may also have been from where Giuliani heard of the imminent collapse (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rudy Washington.Rudy Washington. [Source: Congress of Racial Equality]After being caught in the dust plume when the WTC’s South Tower collapses at 9:59, Rudy Washington, who is one of Rudolph Giuliani’s deputy mayors, heads to City Hall, where he coordinates the city’s emergency response to the attacks. He is in contact with New York Governor George Pataki, high-ranking New York Police Department officers, and Navy Admiral Robert Natter, the commander of the US Atlantic Fleet (see (Shortly After 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He orders the closing of bridges. (Though, according to some accounts, the New York Port Authority ordered all bridges to be closed earlier on, at 9:21 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) As New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch later describes, Washington also finds “heavy machinery to get downtown for the cleanup and got the Navy to guard against a seaborne attack. He evacuated City Hall, which shook like crazy when the second tower fell. He gathered people who could give medical help, gave the order to find lights that could be used at Ground Zero and worked out new phone communications, since power was being lost. Accompanied by city engineers, he went into the streets around the fallen towers, testing the ground to make sure it would hold when the heavy equipment came in.” Washington’s efforts at developing an emergency strategy are reportedly aided by what he learned at an anti-terrorist training session chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and held at the WTC, in preparation for the millennium celebration (see (Late 1999)). Stanley Crouch later credits Rudy Washington with having “ran New York for the first few hours after the attack during a period when Giuliani was thought to have been killed inside the first building that went down.” [New York Daily News, 5/20/2004] During the initial hours following the attacks, between around 9:50 a.m. and midday, Mayor Giuliani is moving around between a series of temporary command posts (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Rudy Washington, Robert Natter, New York City Police Department, George E. Pataki, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bernard Kerik.Bernard Kerik. [Source: Publicity photo]After leaving 75 Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), New York City Mayor Giuliani and the group accompanying him search for somewhere to establish a new temporary headquarters. Soon after the North Tower’s collapse, they break into a vacant firehouse at the corner of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is part of the group, wants the location kept secret. He gives out the order, “Okay, we’re going to establish a command center [here]. We’re not going to let anybody know. I don’t want it over the radio. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t want them [presumably meaning the attackers] to know where we’re all going to be.” Giuliani is able to find a phone, and speaks with New York Governor George Pataki, the White House, and the Defense Department. At around 10:57, he speaks to the television channel New York 1 and offers a message of reassurance to the people of New York City. [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 108; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 15-16; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] Deciding that they need to be somewhere larger and more secure, Kerik suggests they move to the Police Academy on East 20th Street. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 342] Thus, Giuliani’s group—which now numbers more than twenty people plus a press contingent—gets into cars and drives to the academy, arriving around midday. [Giuliani, 2002, pp. 18-19; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] This will remain as the city’s command center for several days, until it is replaced later in the week by a larger space at Pier 92 on the Hudson River. [Center for Biosecurity, 2/3/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bernard Kerik, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission’s staff team that is investigating the emergency response on 9/11 comes to the conclusion that New York City was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “shockingly ill-prepared for the attacks.” It is clear to the investigators that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was largely responsible for what went wrong.
Two Major Problems - One problem was that New York’s emergency command center, based on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center 7, was knocked out early in the attacks, leaving the emergency response without a focal point, and the police and fire departments set up separate command posts (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). The command center, sometimes referred to as “Rudy’s bunker,” was criticized when it was built precisely because this problem was foreseen (see June 8, 1999). In addition, the radios used by firefighters in the World Trade Center failed to work on 9/11. The same problem was encountered during the response to the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), but the solution that was implemented—a repeater to boost the radios’ signal—did not work on the day of the attacks. This problem was especially grave, as many firefighters were instructed to flee the about-to-collapse towers, but did not hear the instruction due to the poor radio system and died as a result (see (Between 9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Tempering Criticism - However, the team, led by former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, is aware that Giuliani’s image as a global hero after the attacks could complicate matters. Shenon will describe their thinking: “But would the Commission be willing to take on the most popular political figure in the country—the president-in-waiting, it seemed?… [Giuliani] was a hero, the embodiment of everything Americans wanted to believe about themselves about 9/11.” Therefore, “Farmer and his team always qualif[y] their criticism of the former mayor.” Nevertheless, the Commission’s two staff statements issued during the hearings about this topic in New York will be extremely critical of Giuliani. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 347-350]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, 9/11 Commission, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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