May 17, 2004
Bloomberg To Testify Before 9/11 Commission
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday decided to testify at the 9/11 commission hearings in New York City this week.
This is the second time the mayor, who took office three months after the September 11, 2001, attacks, has appeared before the commission. He also testified last year.
The hearings begin on Tuesday, and Bloomberg is scheduled to take questions Wednesday morning.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is also among the current and former city officials scheduled to testify.
The hearings in New York will focus on communication among emergency responders in the city after the World Trade Center was attacked. There's word commissioners have already questioned at least one deputy fire chief about radio communications.
There have also been reports the commission will point to a lack of communication between agencies but will praise the bravery and heroism of first-responders.
More than two and half years after the September 11th terror attacks, the federal investigation will now publicly focus on the city's emergency response. What questions remain unanswered? NY1's John Schiumo has more in the following report.
No one can criticize the people who responded, the men and women who successfully led an unprecedented evacuation, the people who responded and helped save an estimated 25,000 lives. The response plan, however, was far from perfect.
“We don't know how many people got the word to evacuate. We're trying to put that together by having interviews,” former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said in December 2001. “We do know many people passed that word onto others.”
Poor communication - perhaps the greatest failure of the city's emergency response. For an example, look no further than when a police helicopter warned that the North Tower looked ready to collapse. Police officers heard the radio transmission and started to evacuate. Firefighters did not.
The failure to share critical information will be one focus of the 9/11 Commission.
“Everybody has a different recollection. In the chaos, people will remember different things," said former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 2001.
Two and a half years later, those in charge that day will be asked to remember why certain decisions were made. Why was the emergency command post first established inside the lobby of the doomed South Tower? Why did the Fire Department lose track of units and lose communication with others? How would the city have responded to a secondary attack, given that every available first responder was called to the World Trade Center?
Given the chaos of the moment, critical decisions were made on the fly. Like when the city ordered police helicopters to crash - in a suicide mission - into the fourth hijacked plane if it too targeted the Twin Towers.
“In reality, we were grasping at straws,” said Former Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Richard Sheirer in 2001.
Many of the problems of the day have been addressed. Better radios have been purchased. Cops and firefighters now conduct joint drills and exercises.
But many questions from that day remain unanswered. Why did public address announcements in the South Tower urge occupants to remain in the building moments before it was struck? Why were the rooftop doors locked, preventing possible rescue? What did city officials learn from the federal government about the threat of terrorism pre-9/11?
As the national spotlight continues to shine on the commission and its investigation, you can expect more defining moments in the aftermath of 9/11.
The 10-member panel is expected to issue its final report, complete with recommendations, before the end of July. Will lessons learned prevent another tragedy?
- John Schiumo
Copyright 2004 NY1 News