Learning security lessons for Downtown and the rest of the U.S.
Former Mayor Giuliani in his testimony before the 9/11 Commission Wednesday, mentioned three places where he tightened security around 1998 in reaction to specific federal warnings about terrorist activity. They were all in Lower Manhattan: the New York Stock Exchange, the Metropolitan Correction Facility where Al Qaeda suspects were detained, and City Hall. There are of course too many other sensitive security areas in the city and across the nation, but Downtown has more than its share. We also have the Statue of Liberty, offices from all levels of government, some of the worlds largest investment houses and the World Trade Center site.
When the talk is about protecting the country from any more terrorist attacks, Lower Manhattan must be one of the centers of attention. Thus it was good to see the 9/11 Commission hold productive hearings this week in New York City.
The bi-partisan commission has done a good job of putting politics mostly aside so far and it appears through their questions, that they are on their way to writing a report focused on recommendations to help us do a better job at protecting our city and nation in the future.
It is beyond disgraceful that the White House and Congress have allowed rural states around the country to get more per capita anti-terrorism funds than New York let alone let the state slip to 49th out of 50, according to Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
The emergency response system of this city has quite properly drawn the focus of this national commission, which has joined the fight for more funds led by its chairperson, Thomas Kean. Not only was New York attacked twice by Islamic terrorists, but it remains the countrys likeliest target in the future, according to many of the witnesses before the commission. There are probably thousands of people living today who owe their lives to the heroism of New Yorks Bravest and Finest on Sept. 11, 2001, but that does not mean that there are not problems between the Police and Fire Departments of a cultural, communication both mechanical and personal and competitive nature that need to be fixed.
At a cost that none of us would have ever have paid if given a choice enduring 9/11 we have an opportunity with this commission to fix some of these systemic problems. Some of Mayor Bloombergs recent recommendations look like a step in the right direction such as requiring emergency commanders from different agencies to operate in the same location. But we share the concern of many of the 9/11 Commissioners that the system appears to be too complicated and not focused enough on correcting the rivalry problems, that despite the denials, obviously still exist.
One of former Mayor Giulianis best ideas for the city was the creation of an Office of Emergency Management, and as he testified this week, the key to making Bloombergs system work is to make it clear that O.E.M. is in charge of resolving jurisdictional disputes, at least until the mayor gets to the scene.
Giuliani has had his own missteps with O.E.M., most notably his foolish decision to locate its emergency command center at 7 World Trade Center a few years after the 1993 bombing. We now know that at least one of his security advisors, Richard Sheirer, who later became O.E.M. commissioner, warned Giuliani not to put the center near a terrorist target. Other outside critics made the same point and were proven right. On Sept. 11, the 7 W.T.C. center was of no use in the citys greatest crisis and the diesel fuel stored there for O.E.M.s backup generators most likely was one of the reasons the building was destroyed the afternoon of Sept. 11. Thankfully, no lives were lost because of that mistake and it was a lesson learned with only monetary costs.
There are many more lessons to be learned and we implore Mayor Bloomberg and his security advisors to pay close attention to the 9/11 Commission. It wont just help New Yorkers. As John Lehman, one of the commissioners, told us, other local governments across America look to N.Y.C. for security guidance. If we find a safer way here, it will help protect the country.