THOMAS KEAN: Today will be a very difficult day, as we relive the loss and the terrible devastation.
SPENCER MICHELS: With that warning, the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of 2001 presented a gripping audio and video chronology of the events of Sept. 11. Relatives of some of the 2,749 people killed at the World Trade Center made up part of the audience that watched the tape in a New York auditorium. The video was replete with stories of stoic heroism, profound tragedy and the mayhem and confusion that enveloped Lower Manhattan. Much of today's hearing focused on failures of communicating the right information to trapped civilians and to rescue workers. Intercut with the video of the planes hitting the Towers, the commission staff interviewed building occupants who either did not get instructions over public address systems or got the wrong instructions.
FIRE WARDEN: I heard a familiar voice say, "your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen, Building 2 is secure. There is no need to evacuate Building 2. If you are in the midst of evacuation, you may use the reentry doors and the elevators to return to your office." At the time of impact, I was talking to a gentleman who said he had gone down half a dozen or ten floors and had come back up because of that announcement.
STANLEY PRAIMNATH: As we were about to exit the building through the turnstile, first the security guard looks at me and says, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going home." "Why?" "I saw fireballs coming down." "No, your building is safe and secure. Go back to your office."
SPENCER MICHELS: The interim staff report presented today said emergency intercom phones in the buildings were not functioning. And those calling 911 found operators and fire department dispatchers who could give them no reliable evacuation guidance. One survivor described being put on hold twice before talking to an operator.
FIRE WARDEN: I told the third person that "I am only telling you once. I am getting out of the building. Here are the details. Write it down and do what you should do and put the phone down." Stanley and I went back to the stairs and we continued all the way down to the plaza level.
SPENCER MICHELS: The commission identified electronic communications problems encountered by the fire department. Heavy message traffic drowned out calls and responses. Some were also using unfamiliar new radios. Two fire department commanders described the challenge of working under those conditions.
JOSEPH PFEIFER: One of the most critical things in a major operation like this is to have information. We didn't have a lot of information coming in. We didn't receive any reports of what was seen from the helicopters. It was impossible to know how much damage was done on the upper floors, whether the stairwells were intact or not. A matter of fact, what you saw on TV, we didn't have that information.
PETER HAYDEN: People watching on TV certainly had more knowledge of what was happening a hundred floors above us than we did in the lobby. Certainly, without any information, without critical information coming in, the cumulative effect of the information coming in, it's very difficult to make informed and critical decisions without that information. And it didn't exist that day. Our communications systems were down. Our building suppression systems were down, the elevators. We had no video capability throughout the entire operation.
SPENCER MICHELS: Three hundred forty-three firemen and twenty-three police officers died in the attack. The chiefs of the New York police and fire departments at the time fielded questions today about the rivalry between their agencies and the lack of adequate communications between them. When Commissioner John Lehman raised the subject, he got a sharp response.
JOHN LEHMAN: I think that the command and control and communications of this city's public service is a scandal. (Applause)
SPOKESMAN: I would ask the audience, this is taking time away from the hearing, so please do not.
JOHN LEHMAN: It's not worthy of the boy scouts let alone this great city.
BERNARD B KERIK: The authority that the police commissioner has is very different than the fire commissioner, and I'll let Tommy talk about. That but that has a lot to do with the laws of New York City and the negotiations of unions and other things.
THOMAS VON ESSEN, Former Commissioner, Fire Department of New York: I couldn't disagree with you more. I think that one of the criticisms of this committee has been statements like you just made, talking about scandalous, procedures and scandalous operations and rules and everything else. There's nothing scandalous about the way New York City handles emergencies. You make it sound like everything was wrong about Sept. 11, or the way we function, I think it's outrageous that you make a statement like that. We operate, we had thousands of fires, thousands of fires, thousands of fires were operations worked, where we work together -- hundreds of collapses and operations where we work together with the police department. Yes, were there isolated incidents where a police officer an aggressive emergency service guy and an aggressive guy from our rescues is trying to take control of an incident, yes, and we worked awful those out.
RICHARD SHEIRER, Former Director, NY City Office of Emergency Management: On Sept. 11 there was no more coordinated efforts than there could have been. And with all the criticism that has been made, I have yet to hear a single instance where anybody shows me anything that where the agencies did not work together and coordinate their efforts. I strongly urge, I have a very strong background in communications, and I urge the commission to take a very close listen to the tapes on all the various agencies, and very carefully listen to them because there's a lot of cross communications regarding relaying information, conferring with each other that I haven't heard about, until I took sat down and listened for six hours because I keep hearing that we didn't do that.
SPENCER MICHELS: Former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik explained that a lot of the radio communications problems stemmed from the limits of current technology.
BERNARD B. KERIK: When the towers went down the cell sites were lost. I had communication was the mayor on the way to the scene, when I got there they were gone. As a cell sites dropped, so did the communications. We operated on Nextel, then Nextel dropped, then they came back up. And the thing with the walkie-talkies, listen, I'm not an expert, but I can tell you this: Go to any of the communications companies out there, go to the best, go to Motorola, go to the best there is, show me one radio show me one radio that they will guarantee you this radio will go through that metal, it will go through the debris, it will go through the dust, you will have 100 percent communications 100 percent of the time. There is none. There is none.
SPENCER MICHELS: Several commissioners wanted to know if New York emergency officials had been brief bid the FBI about threats from Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network al-Qaida.
THOMAS KEAN: And intelligence agencies were full of talk of this threat and what it might mean. Was that communicated to you, that there was a heightened sense of security, did that sense in Washington, did somebody call you or your department and said look, something is going to happen and we're very worried and you ought to be on high alert?
BERNARD B. KERIK: They honestly believed whatever was going to happen was going to happen outside of this country. And regardless, whether they thought it was outside or inside it doesn't take away the alertness or the awareness that we had, dating back to 1997 and 1998 when the mayor closed down city hall, and implemented different steps to raise our alert status to bravo in the city, in anticipation of a problem. But I did hear, I just didn't hear it was about New York.
SPENCER MICHELS: Following a break, the current commissioners of the city's police and fire departments told the panel that things had much improved. The departments are sharing information and gathering intelligence and rebuilding. But Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there was still a major problem when it came to threat.
RAYMOND W. KELLY: One of the big frustrations-- of course, we all know-- is the lack of specificity in terms of information coming down the pike. It just doesn't come neatly packaged. So we're putting out information that's pretty much public source information to the officers in the field.
THOMAS KEANE: This hearing will reconvene tomorrow morning at 8:00 A.M.
SPENCER MICHELS: The second day of the hearing, tomorrow, will focus on how the crisis was managed. It includes appearances by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.