!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Joseph M. Morris
Joseph M. Morris was a participant or observer in the following events:
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 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ]
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 ; 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 ]
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 ; Law Officer, 8/16/2011]
William Zika. [Source: William Zika]Inspector Joseph Morris, a commanding officer with the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD), gives the order to move the PAPD’s mobile command post further away from the World Trade Center and thereby likely prevents those in it being killed or seriously injured when the North Tower collapses. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100-101] The mobile command post is a vehicle the size of a bus that was dispatched from the PAPD’s headquarters in Jersey City when word reached there about the crash at the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). It arrived near the Twin Towers at around 9:30 a.m. and was parked just north of the intersection of West and Vesey Streets, next to Building 6 of the WTC. [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002 ; Accardi, 3/7/2002 ; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 8, 100] After the South Tower collapsed (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), Port Authority personnel gathered at the vehicle to regroup.
Police Captain Says the North Tower Will Collapse - At some point, Captain Anthony Whitaker, the PAPD commanding officer at the WTC, comes to the mobile command post and warns that the North Tower is in danger of collapsing, like the South Tower did. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] He is convinced that the North Tower is “about to come down any minute,” he will later recall. [Murphy, 2002, pp. 187] He approaches Morris outside the vehicle and urgently tells him that “the area is not safe, because [the North Tower] is coming down.” [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003] Presumably in response to Whitaker’s warning, Morris decides that the vehicle needs to be moved to somewhere safer. “I knew that the mobile command post must be moved north on West Street,” he will state. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] He gets into the vehicle and gives the order, “Move the command post.”
Instruction Is Given to Move the Command Bus - Those in the vehicle groan in frustration when they hear Morris’s order, since “[p]eople were in motion, the command post was almost operational, [and] no one wanted to disconnect everything and start all over,” according to a book by Lieutenant William Keegan of the PAPD. But Morris ignores their objections, points to a location on a map of the city, and says, “Move it there.” [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100]
Fire Trucks Move to Allow the Vehicle to Drive Away - Sergeant William Zika, who is at the mobile command post with Morris, talks with Police Officer Frank Accardi, the vehicle’s driver, and Police Officer Thomas Kennedy “about moving the bus further north to a safer location.” [Zika, 3/9/2002] But before they can start the vehicle, Accardi and Kennedy have to clean its air filter, which became clogged with debris when the South Tower collapsed. [Merrill, 2011, pp. 232; Law Officer, 8/16/2011] Meanwhile, Whitaker starts yelling at the fire trucks parked nearby to free up space so the vehicle can get away. [Murphy, 2002, pp. 187]
Moving the Command Bus Reportedly Saves Lives - Accardi then starts the mobile command post, moves it north, and parks it on West Street, between Murray and Chambers Streets. The North Tower of the WTC will collapse while the vehicle is at this location, at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Accardi, 3/7/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] The tower will crush Building 6 of the WTC, “covering the exact spot where the command post had stood with tons of debris,” Keegan will write. This will mean that Morris’s order to move the vehicle “prevented the deaths of everyone in the PAPD command post,” according to Keegan. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100-101]
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.
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.