By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Actually, Giuliani didn't create the OEM until three years after the 1993 bombing, 27 months into his term. And he didn't open the OEM's new emergency command center until the end of 1999nearly six years after he'd taken office. If he "assumed from the moment I came into office that NYC would be the subject of a terrorist attack," as he told Time when it made him "Person of the Year" in 2001, he sure took a long time to erect what he describes as the city's front line of defense.
The OEM was established so long after the bombing because, contrary to Giuliani's revisionism, the decision to create it had nothing to do with the bombing. Several memos, unearthed from the Giuliani archive and going on at great length, reveal that the initial rationale for the agency was "non-law enforcement events," particularly the handling of a Brooklyn water-main break shortly after he took office that the mayor thought had been botched. Before that, in December 1994, when an unemployed computer programmer carried a bomb onto a subway in an extortion plot against the Transit Authority, Giuliani was upset that he couldn't even get a count of patients from the responding services for his press conference.
Jerry Hauer, who was handpicked by Giuliani to head the OEM, testified before the 9/11 Commission that Giuliani was "unable to get the full story" at the firebombing and "heard about the huge street collapse" that followed the water-main break "on TV," adding: "That's what led the mayor to set up OEM." Hauer went through five interviews for the job, and the only time terrorism came up was when Giuliani briefly discussed the failed sarin-gas drill. He even met with Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover; no one said a word about the 1993 bombing. Hauer's own memos at the time the OEM was launched in 1996 emphasize "the visibility of the mayor" during emergencies (rather than the police commissioner) as a major objective of the agency. The now- ballyhooed new office was, however, so underfunded from the start that Hauer could only hire staffers whose salaries would be paid for by other agencies like the NYPD.
With that kind of history, it's hardly surprising that the OEM was anything but "invaluable" on 9/11. Sam Caspersen, one of the principal authors of the 9/11 Commission's chapter on the city's response, says that "nothing was happening at OEM" during the 102 minutes of the attack that had any direct impact on the city's "rescue/evacuation operation." A commission staff statement found that, even prior to the evacuation of the OEM command center at 7 World Trade an hour after the first plane hit, the agency "did not play an integral role" in the response. Despite Giuliani's claim today that he and the OEM were "constantly planning for different kinds" of attacks, none of the OEM exercises replicated the 1993 bombing. No drill occurred at the World Trade Center, and none involved the response to a high-rise fire anywhere. In fact, the OEM had no high-rise planits emergency-management trainers weren't even assigned to prepare for the one attack that had already occurred, and the one most likely to recur. Kevin Culley, a Fire Department captain who worked as a field responder at OEM, said the agency had "plans for minor emergencies," but he couldn't recall "anybody anticipating another attack like the '93 bombing."
Instead of being the best-prepared city, New York's lack of unified command, as well as the breakdown of communications between the police and fire departments, fell far short of the efforts at the Pentagon that day, as later established by the 9/11 Commission and NIST reports. When the 280,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters recently released a powerful video assailing Giuliani for sticking firefighters with the same radios that "we knew didn't work" in the 1993 attack, the presidential campaign attacked the union. "This is an organization that supported John Kerry for president in 2004," Giuliani aide Tony Carbonetti said. "So it's no shock that they're out there going after a credible Republican." While the IAFF did endorse Kerry, the Uniformed Firefighters of Greater New York, whose president starred in the video, endorsed Bush. Its former president, Tom Von Essencurrently a member of Giuliani Partnerswas the fire commissioner on 9/11 precisely because the union had played such a pivotal role in initially electing Giuliani.
The IAFF video reports that 121 firefighters in the north tower didn't get out because they didn't hear evacuation orders, rejecting Giuliani's claim before the 9/11 Commission that the firefighters heard the orders and heroically decided to "stand their ground" and rescue civilians. Having abandoned that 2004 contention, the Giuliani campaign is now trying to blame the deadly communications lapse on the repeaters, which were installed to boost radio signals in the towers. But the commission concluded that the "technical failure of FDNY radios" was "a contributing factor," though "not the primary cause," of the "many firefighter fatalities in the North Tower." The commission compared "the strength" of the NYPD and FDNY radios and said that the weaknesses of the FDNY radios "worked against successful communication."
The commission report also found that "it's impossible to know what difference it made that units in the North Tower weren't using the repeater channel," because no one knows if it "remained operational" after the collapse of the south tower, which fell on the trade-center facilities where the repeater and its console were located. The collapse also drove everyone out of the north tower lobby, leaving no one to operate the repeater console. In addition, the commission concluded that fire chiefs failed to turn on the repeater correctly that morninganother indication of the lack of training and drills at the WTC between the attacks. In the end, firefighters had to rely exclusively on their radios, and the inability of the Giuliani administration to find a replacement for the radios that malfunctioned in 1993 left them unable to talk to each other, even about getting out of a tower on the verge of collapse.