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Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Strategic Planning Critique of the 9/11 Emergency Response
Strategic Planning Critique of the 9/11 Emergency Response
The 9/11 attacks on America became a catalyst for major changes in the way our country deals with catastrophic emergency. To examine this process, several components of the process must be explored. First, the strategic plans that were in place must be analyzed. The flow of communications must be evaluated. The question of how agencies reacted must be answered. The implications of whether a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach to emergency response must be considered. Finally, Recommendations regarding public sector and government agencies and their preparations for the management of critical incidents must be examined.
Beginning with an analysis of the strategic plan in response to the 9/11 attacks, it can be seen the the “overall” strategic plan was a paper tiger. “After the first World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, the federal government instituted a number of initiatives intended to identify preparedness issues and appropriate corresponding prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery strategies. The Department of Justice (DOJ) served as a lead agency working with other appropriate federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)” (Fleming, 2009, pp. 168-169). However, these initiatives suffered from the facts on the ground, “Federal attempts to improve capacity for emergency response were also compromised by the fact that the actors who would bear the immediate burden of response...were more agents of state and ( more often) local government” (Roberts, 2006, p.325). In reality, “the last best hope for the community of people working in or visiting the World Trade Center rested not with national policymakers but with private firms and local public servants,especially the first responders:fire,police,emergency medical service,and building safety professionals” (The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.278.). Local authorities had prepared for critical incidents, but ineffectively. “In July 2001, Mayor Giuliani updated a directive titled 'Direction and Control of Emergencies in the City of New York. 'Its purpose was to eliminate 'potential conflict among responding agencies which may have areas of overlapping expertise and responsibility' “ Nevertheless,the FDNY and NYPD each considered itself operationally autonomous. As of September 11,they were not prepared to comprehensively coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident. The OEM had not overcome this problem” (The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.284-285). Compounding the lack of unified command, individual agency preparations were incomplete, “While the Fire Department had a recall procedure for Fire Operations personnel, it had not been activated for more than30 years and personnel received no training in its activation. The Department had no recall procedure for EMS personnel. As a result, the recall was disorganized and ineffective” (McKinsey & Company, n.d, p. 10). In addition, “The Port Authority also sought to prepare civilians better for future emergencies. Deputy fire safety directors conducted fire drills at least twice a year, with advance notice to tenants. 'Fire safety teams' were selected” on each floor (The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.280). As we move to examining the initial response, and the communications breakdowns, we can see how the planning strategy was incomplete.
The flow of communications was the first breakdown in emergency response. “Throughout the response on September 11, the FDNY and NYPD rarely coordinated command and control functions and rarely exchanged information related to command and control”(McKinsey & Company, n.d., p.9). This was borne out in the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission, which found that the first major breakdown was “a failure of communication at both the macro-level between government
agencies as well as the micro-level with the inability of local emergency response personnel being able to communicate with each other during the time of an emergency.” (Penn, 2007, pp. 83-84). A review of FDNY oral histories shows that:
-The systematic use of information to control, deploy, and coordinate resources is essential in an emergency. 9/11 showed how communication failures and information handling breakdowns can complicate emergency responses.
-In extreme emergencies, communications go down, command structures are disrupted, chains of command are ineffective or broken, information arrives to groups or individuals on the scene in a piecemeal and sometimes confusing fashion, and these first-liner responders react and improvise, interpreting the information at hand as best they can
-FDNY officers operated in something approaching an information vacuum — they lacked reliable intelligence, could not see media reports that people across the nation were seeing, and could not get aerial video coverage or verbal reports from police and other helicopters on the condition of the towers. (Dearstyne, 2007, pp.30-3)
Despite the breakdown of communications and control, local agencies responded with personal heroism. At first, agencies were able to hold to procedure. “The FDNY’s First Battalion Chief witnessed the first crash from a nearby street and was the first arriving chief officer on the scene. In accordance with FDNY protocols, he established an Incident Command Post in the lobby of World Trade Center”(McKinsey & Company, n.d, p. 5). But the breakdown in communications was compounded by the location of emergency coordinators. “The OEM’s headquarters was located at 7 WTC. Some questioned locating it both so close to a previous terrorist target and on the 23rd floor of a building (difficult to access should elevators become inoperable).There was no backup site” (The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.284). The FDNY system of command was devastated by the collapse of the Towers:
Chief officers at the World Trade Center scene kept track of the location and assignment of units, but they had no way of backing-up their records. For example, the FDNY Field Communications Unit was responsible for tracking the assignment of Fire units to different alarms, towers, and staging areas. This unit worked next to the Incident Command Post and kept records on a magnetic command board, using small magnets placed on a diagram to indicate unit locations. Chief officers at the Operations Posts in the two towers also used magnetic command boards to track the units assigned to their buildings. These boards and the records they kept were destroyed when the towers collapsed (McKinsey & Company, n.d, p. 11).
Other failures in the response to the incident were based on the failure to plan. “The FDNY requested and received mutual aid from Nassau and Westchester counties on September 11. However the Department had no process for evaluating the need for mutual aid, nor any formal methods of requesting that aid or managing it” (McKinsey & Company, n.d, p. 10). Other breakdowns in communications became apparent in the evacuation of the Towers. The 9/11 Commission describes a situation in which the “The deputy fire safety director in the lobby... initially gave announcements to those floors that had generated computerized alarms,advising those tenants to descend to points of
safety—...and to wait there for further instructions....But the first FDNY chiefs to arrive in the lobby were advised by the Port Authority fire safety director...that the full building evacuation announcement had been made within one minute of the building being hit” (The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.286), Finally, first responders had to deal with the uncertainty of the situation. “firefighters became engaged in activities they usually do not do: 'busting up and hauling concrete,' scrambling over a rubble pile, and removing victims and decayed bodies and body parts” (Jackson, 2002, p.xi).
It is in this uncertainty that the local responders truly shone though. Individual acts of leadership and initiative demonstrated the utility of a bottom-up approach in emergency response. Although Jackson contends that “The most critical need for site management is a coherent command authority” (2002, p.xiii) and Hood reinforces this argument from from the hierarchist perspective, “the lessons to be learnt include the need to clarify lines of command and communication” (2005, p.392), it can be seen in contrast that “bureaucracies are acknowledged to have many distinctive weaknesses – such as an inability to execute routines quickly” (Roberts, 2006, p.314), and this was the case of the day:
the number of FDNY personnel en route to or present at the scene was far greater than the commanding chiefs at the scene had requested. Five factors account for this disparity. First,while the second fifth alarm had called for 20 engine and 8 ladder companies,in fact 23 engine and 13 ladder companies were dispatched. Second,several other units self-dispatched. Third, because the attacks came so close to the 9:00 shift change,many firefighters just going off duty were given permission by company officers to “ride heavy” and became part of those on-duty teams,under the leadership of that unit’s officer.(The 9/11 Commission, n.d, p.297)
Walker asserts that to prepare for the future, “the nation's “tragedy reinforces the need for America to learn from the past” (2002, p.97). The nation's priorities were changed as a result of the attacks. “local preparations for disasters of all types and on all scales have been given the
highest priority, and guarding against terrorist acts, in particular, is recognized as a critical need”(The United States Conference of Mayors, 2001, p.1), FEMA concluded that “The most prevalent themes for improving community responses to terrorism and other catastrophic events that emerge from the review of key recommendations” were; Command and Control,Communications, and Training and Exercises. Other cross cutting themes identified by FEMA included; Coordination, Mutual Aid, and Strategic Planning. (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2002, p.5). The importance of communications is stressed throughout incident reviews.“Emergency responders repeatedly stressed the importance of having timely and reliable health and safety information. 'What kills rescue responders is the unknown' “(Jackson, 2002, p.xii). Bevc et al support the importance of communications. “Information technologies and crisis informatics may vastly increase response efficiency by aiding in the communication and interoperability of responding organisations and the communities impacted”(Bevc, Barlau, & Passanante, 2009, p.19). Overall, however, “it is critical that we have strong and sustained leadership” (Walker, 2002, p.94).
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