!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

After 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001: FEMA Representative Goes to the Police Command Center, but Then Has Problems Responding to the Attacks

Jay Kopstein.Jay Kopstein. [Source: Jay Kopstein]Richard Ohlsen, an employee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region II office in Lower Manhattan, goes to the headquarters of the New York Police Department (NYPD), but is initially denied entry into the building and, once inside, experiences various difficulties as he tries to respond to the terrorist attacks. Following the second crash at the World Trade Center, the FEMA office was unable to communicate with Office of Emergency Management personnel in WTC Building 7 and so Ohlsen was told to go to WTC 7 to act as a liaison there (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). As he was on his way out, though, the South Tower of the WTC collapsed (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FEMA Employee Is Denied Entry into the Police Headquarters - Consequently, instead of going to the WTC site, Ohlsen heads to the command center at NYPD headquarters, at One Police Plaza. When he arrives at NYPD headquarters, however, officers refuse to let him in because they do not recognize his FEMA identification as being official. Fortunately, Jay Kopstein, an inspector with the NYPD who happens to be passing by, recognizes him and takes him up to the command center.
Employee Lacks Priority Access to the Phone Network - Ohlsen’s problems continue, however, after he arrives there. Ohlsen does not have with him a special GETS (Government Emergency Telecommunications Service) phone card, which gives government and emergency workers priority to make phone calls during a crisis. Consequently, when he wants to reach FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, he has to contact it through the normal collect call procedures, even though this is a national emergency. And when he does get through, he is told that responsibility for dealing with the attacks in New York has been transferred to FEMA’s Region I office in Massachusetts, as part of the agency’s standard continuity of operations procedures, and so all requests are meant to go through there.
Officials Refuse to Open an Equipment Cache - Ohlsen also runs into difficulty when he asks for an equipment cache that contains personal protective gear and search and rescue equipment for New York City’s urban search and rescue team to be opened. He is incredulous when, in light of the current situation, officials with the New York City Fire Department, which maintains the cache, refuse his request, supposedly because no one from the federal government has authorized the use of the equipment. Ohlsen apparently persists and eventually gets the cache opened, since he will later describe this setback as “the first problem he was able to resolve” after arriving at the command center. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 pdf file; Graff, 2017, pp. 343-344]

Entity Tags: New York City Fire Department, Jay Kopstein, Federal Emergency Management Agency, New York City Police Department, Richard Ohlsen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Time period

Email Updates

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


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


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