By Albert Samaha
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Kerik and Ganci talked briefly. It was the only time the two leaders of these often dueling departments would speak that day. Uncomfortable about the exposed location, Kerik then said, "Mayor, we've got to get you out of here and set up a command post." Hector Santiago, a member of Kerik's detail, heard the false alarm of a third plane over the radio and yelled, "Boss, we have to go. There's a third plane coming. We're underneath the building. We have to go." With chunks of the towers falling on West Street, Giuliani urged Ganci to move the command post. They exchanged God-bless-you's.
Then the mayor, Kerik, Deputy Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy, and other top cops all left. The chief of the department, Joe Esposito, was on his way to the fire command post when Giuliani left. Informed by radio that the group was leaving just as he approached, Esposito, the highest-ranking uniformed officer, was also diverted to Barclay Street. Joe Dunne, the first deputy police commissioner, arrived shortly after Giuliani departed and was told to turn around and join the mayor. Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, who also met Giuliani on Barclay and went to West Street with him, said, "There were no police officials at the command post when we got there and none when we left."
After presiding over endless turf battles between the two proud departments, Giuliani knew how critical police-fire cooperation was, and he knew it wouldn't happen automatically. Yet in his book Leadership, Giuliani wrote: "I turned north and headed to the Police Department command post." In his 9-11 Commission testimony, he said, "I then walked up with, at this point, the police commissioner, the deputy police commissioner, and the chief of the department. I was really brought into 75 Barclay and told this would be our command post."
The "our" was the police and the mayor. Yet the fire department was responsible for managing the city response to any firea series of interagency directives that Giuliani had signed only a few months earlier said so. Giuliani's role at that moment was to do everything he could to put police and fire commanders at the same post, not participate in setting up a police command post at Barclay that would be separate from Ganci's. If the mayor felt that he needed to go to Barclayfor reasons of safety or to get hard phone lines and hold a press conferencewhy did he bring all of the top police commanders with him? Why did he never raise the subject of a joint response while at West Street? And since Ganci said he was moving his post, why was there no discussion of a new joint location that would include some of the top police decision makers?
Everyone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that's one of the reasons the lack of inter- operable radios became such a focus of fury. If the top brass of the two departments were at each other's sides, they could have told each other whatever they learned from their separate radio systems. Many of the command and control issues that might have saved lives could clearly have been better dealt with had Giuliani stopped, taken a deep breath, and pushed Kerik and Ganci to fully and effectively join forces. Insisting that Kerik, McCarthy, Esposito, or Dunne stay at the incident post would have established a joint operation.
Even Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen, who also left West Street to join the mayor, said later: "There should be a representative from the Police Department there; there should be a high-level chief from the Fire Department there. They should be controlling the operation from that command post. That day the police did not hook up with the Fire Department. I don't know why."
The National Institute of Standards and Technology found that "functional unified operations were diminished as a result of the two departments' command posts being separated." In fact, said NIST, there's no record that "any senior police department personnel" were assigned "to provide liaison or assist" with Ganci's incident post. The longtime head of Giuliani's emergency management office, Jerry Hauer, pointed out the most dire consequence of the split command posts: "Had there been a senior police liaison at the command post, information about what the police were observing in the air could have been relayed to the ground." He, the 9-11 Commission, and NIST agree that at a joint post, the fire chiefs would have gotten the warnings of collapse issued by police helicopters that they otherwise missed.
Giuliani had the opportunity to make that kind of unified direction happenand, by his own description, the obligation to make it happenbut he didn't. In his first detailed post9-11 television interview he recalled that he "walked away" from Ganci's post "and took my people with me." But they were not just "his" people, meaning his City Hall deputies. Included in his entourage was the entire police command.
In that same September 22 interview, Giuliani offered a different explanation for his initial decision to go to the FDNY post on West Street: "I wanted to join the Fire Department and the Police Department together at one command post, so I asked where the Fire Department command post was." He had inadvertently described what he should have done, indeed what his own protocol required him to do. But obviously, that story didn't fit the facts. So by the time he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 27, he remembered things differently. "And then when I got there," he said, "I wanted to make sure that the police department had a command post so that we could communicate with the White House, and the fire department had one so they could actually focus their attention on fighting the fire and the rescue."