from America’s Mayor: The Hidden History of Rudy Giuliani’s New York
Soft Skull Press (June 2005)
Edited by Robert Polner
Introduction by Jimmy Breslin
Contributors: Jim Dwyer, Michael Tomasky, Susan Jacoby, Luc Sante, Kevin Baker, Hugh Pearson, Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins
Excerpted from Kathleen Brady’s essay on Rudy’s sky bunker, entitled “Control.”
.…Of course, disaster did come on September 11, 2001. That morning the mayor was breakfasting at the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street when he was told that a two-engine plane struck one of the World Trade towers. He sped downtown in his Chevy Suburban, past St. Vincent’s Hospital where knots of doctors and stretchers awaited the wounded. Wild rumors flew: the Sears Tower in Chicago had been attacked, 12 commercial planes were missing, an estimated 15,000 were likely to be killed. As Giuliani neared the World Trade Center he looked skyward and saw a man hurtling from one of the towers into the street below. He learned that the White House and City Hall had been evacuated and that the phones at One Police Plaza were out. Giuliani never made it to his bunker, which was off limits by the time he got downtown. Together with the police and fire commissioners, he quickly moved uptown to establish an emergency command post at the Police Academy.
Meanwhile, the police and fire departments did not know who was in charge of evacuating the towers, but at that point it didn’t matter because all communications were down. The obliterated World Trade Center was a major link in the city’s cellular transmission and broadcasting services. That link was now dead. Communications were no better than they had been the first time terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and six people were killed and scores injured. Just as in 1993, communications problems and a lack of coordination impeded rescue efforts. The scale of the disaster was greater, but the rescue glitches were the same.
Although multi-millions of dollars were spent to build the bunker and equip it with the latest in communications, the fire department, first responders in any emergency, had non-working radios because their repeater channel, necessary to operations in high rises, did not function properly. Firefighters did not receive information that was available to police, nor did they hear evacuation orders.
As for the bunker, it proved to be useless on 9/11. But [former emergency services coordinator Jerome] Hauer adamantly denies that the command center should have been underground or on street level: “Every water main around City Hall is over 100 years old. If you put a command center underground in that environment, at the end of the day you could have a 13 to 16 million dollar swimming pool.” Moreover, he stressed that when officials built it, they were focused on a chemical and biological attack like the one Tokyo experienced in 1995. Hauer explained that because most chemicals and biologics are heavier than air, they settle on the ground. “When you are dealing with chemical agents, you want to be at least seven or nine floors above ground. The lower you are, including the basement, the more likely you are to be impacted by chemical or biological agents. We were building against threats we thought were realistic,” he said.
But if Giuliani did not want to travel long distances in an emergency, did he really want to have to climb 23 flights of stairs? “Who’s walking?” Hauer said. “We had generators to run the elevator. We had one generator dedicated to us so that we could go up and down and even if the entire city went out, it would work.”
Ah, and that became the rub. A giant, 6,000-gallon diesel fuel tank was located 15 feet above the ground floor near elevators to supply back-up electricity to the bunker in the event of a power failure. The Secret Service and Solomon Smith Barney, another tenant in the building, had previously sited other smaller back-up tanks so they could maintain operations during a power outage.
Officials who worked at the Fire Department when Giuliani’s command center was built say they warned both the city and the Port Authority, which owns the land on which World Trade complex stood, that the tanks posed a hazard and were not consistent with city fire codes. But as a super-agency of the state, the Port Authority had long claimed (at least before 9/11 investigations) that it superseded city codes and that it was not required to follow them. A frequent target of the mayor’s ire for what he called its unilateral and unaccountable ways, the Port Authority green-lighted the flammable repository used to power Rudy’s bunker.
After 9/11, a team organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Society of Civil Engineers reported evidence of very high temperatures typical of fuel fires in the debris from the building they examined. In a preliminary assessment, they raised the possibility that the diesel was responsible for the fire, which melted steel and undermined the building’s transfer truss structure. An hour before it fell at 5:28 p.m., heavy black smoke indicative of a fuel fire poured from the area where the tanks were stored. Unlike the Trade Towers, 7 World Trade Center fell straight down, suggesting an internal collapse. Although the Secret Service study indicated that nothing but a truck bomb could bring 7 World Trade Center down, it was destroyed by fire.
In the days after 9/11, much of the steel used in construction of all the World Trade buildings was carted off to scrap yards, but engineering societies moved quickly enough to identify scraps they wanted saved for examination. Volunteers from the Structural Engineers Association visited three recycling yards and the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island where they located and studied World Trade Center debris. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute evaluated steel evidence and suggested that sulfur released during the fire may have combined with atoms in the steel to form compounds that melt at lower temperatures.
After the 1995 terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway, the U.S. federal government focused on the threat of biological and chemical attacks. New York City officials did the same, even though the terrorist attacks the city had experienced in the recent quarter century were more conventional. The Armed Forces for Puerto Rican National Liberation, known by its Spanish acronym FALN, made several attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, notably on January 24, 1975, when it bombed Fraunces Tavern, killing four people and wounding 60 others. In 1993, fundamentalist Muslims bombed the World Trade Center, killing six. In 1997, two Palestinians were arrested for planning to bomb the Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn.
New York City under Giuliani studied Tokyo’s experience. It prepared for chemical attack, such had been visited on the Japanese city. It situated its emergency center in a high-rise, justifying that in part because Tokyo had placed command centers in tall buildings. Why then could it not follow Tokyo’s lead and prepare a detailed evacuation plan for every neighborhood of its city, including downtown? The evacuation plan for the World Trade Center, devised after the 1993 attack, stopped at the front door. Once people got to the sidewalk, they were on their own.
Government agencies were slow to investigate federal and local response to the 9/11 attacks, but the victims’ families eventually forced officials to set up an independent investigation commission. The commission took testimony in New York City in May, 2004. Both Hauer and Richard Sheirer, who succeeded Hauer and was with Giuliani on 9/11, testified. Hauer had left O.E.M. to work for a consulting firm in San Diego in early 2000. He quickly incurred Giuliani’s implacable ire when, as a private citizen, he backed the mayoral candidacy of Mark Green, a Giuliani foe, when term limits prevented Giuliani from seeking a third term.
After hearing their testimony and that of other city officials, commission member John Lehman pronounced New York City’s pre-9/11 emergency plan “not worthy of the Boy Scouts.” When it was Giuliani’s turn to testify the following day, he capitalized on the commission’s deference to him by softly chiding, “Our enemy is not each other but the terrorists who attacked us.” In response, Lehman, a former Secretary of the Navy, wrote in the editorial pages of the New York Times, “It has long been military practice to do a thorough study after every battle to find the lessons to be learned. This does not dishonor the heroes of that battle. In addition to recognizing the magnificent heroes of 9/11, this commission must learn lessons and recommend actions to fix problems. Some will deride this as Monday morning quarterbacking, but it is a necessary duty.”
Bellicose by nature, while in office Giuliani put his energy into fighting hurricanes and human foes (political and anticipated terrorist ones). He was so busy combating perceived enemies, and bypassing police and fire commissioners that it never entered the mind of this paranoid man to prepare a citywide evacuation plan to help people get out of harm, to which Giuliani claims he was perpetually alert. The makeshift rescue operation organized on 9/11 was doomed in part because of the F.D.N.Y.’s habitually poor communication systems. In contrast, those in his useless, flaming bunker were state of the art.
In those who attacked the World Trade Center, Giuliani finally had an enemy worthy of his passion and he led the city through its darkest day. History records other disasters. New York City was nearly destroyed by fire in 1776 and again in 1778. It suffered massive civil disturbances when the Draft Riots erupted in 1863. In 1904, the sinking of the Slocum ferry wiped out a large proportion of the local German community. However, Giuliani managed the city through a calamity that hopefully will never be equaled.
Hindsight is 20-20, as Giuliani has intoned since leaving office and building a multi-million dollar consulting business. But one wonders what the pugnacious Giuliani would be saying if a rival had been mayor on 9/11. What if anyone but the self-involved Giuliani had built a highly publicized multi-million dollar emergency command post near a known terrorist target? What if after being warned for years that New York City was subject to sudden attack, that person never upgraded the fire department’s communication equipment or devised a citywide evacuation plan? What if that person had installed a 6,000-gallon diesel fuel tank at 7 World Trade Center, which became the only steel-reinforced high-rise to fall in a fire? Would Giuliani be saying that in placing large tanks of diesel fuel at 7 World Trade Center, that person had destroyed his own bunker and helped to bring an entire building down?