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Giuliani describes 9/11 rescue efforts

Giuliani: 'Could not conceive of the entire tower coming down'

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Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton of the 9/11 panel talk to CNN's Bill Hemmer about what they hope to learn from testimony.

New York City's former police and fire chiefs came under fire from the 9-11 commission for what the panel called a communication breakdown.
Rudolph E. Giuliani
New York
Emergency Planning
Acts of terror

NEW YORK (CNN) -- One day after former New York fire and police department officials drew criticism over communication problems that plagued rescue efforts during the World Trade Center attacks, the boss of both agencies has told the 9/11 commission Wednesday that the rescuers' performance demonstrated a "superb command structure."

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is speaking on the second of two days of public hearings at Manhattan's New School University looking at how the emergency services performed on September 11, 2001.

Giuliani described the heroic rescue efforts immediately after the attacks and the recovery effort, which he said took place in "the most dangerous recovery site probably in the history of this country."

He the praised the rescuers' "superb command structure."

"I would urge you in evaluating their performance, to put it in the context of (the fact that) no one ever has encountered an attack like this. No one has had to have dealt with a recovery and search effort anywhere near this dimension," Giuliani said.

Before he left office, Giuliani issued regulations to address the rivalry between the 40,000-member police force and the city's 11,000 firefighters and created the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate response among all agencies.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will also testify Wednesday, last week announced a revised incident command system to clarify in what instances the New York Police or Fire departments should take the leading role.

Commissioner John Lehman, a former U.S. Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said Tuesday that at the time of the attacks, city officials lacked clear lines of authority in case of a crisis and its emergency management plan merely "puts in concrete a severely dysfunctional system."

But former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen disagreed sharply with that assessment. Von Essen called Lehman's complaint "outrageous."

"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," Von Essen said.

"There's nothing scandalous about how New York handles its emergencies. We had strong leadership with the mayor. We had strong leadership with the fire commissioner and with the police commissioner."

"I believe we did our best, based on what we knew at the time," Kerik said.

Tom Ridge who heads the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in response to the terror attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, will also testify Wednesday.

Glitches in machines, messages Panel commissioner Jamie Gorelick said many of the communication problems could be blamed on the "sheer magnitude" of the attacks.

But Lehman said the city's command, control and communication systems remain "a scandal" 2 1/2 years after the attacks.

"It's not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city," he said to applause from spectators.

The attacks killed 2,749 people aboard the planes, inside the buildings or on the surrounding streets of Lower Manhattan, according to the New York medical examiner's office.

The dead included 343 firefighters, 23 New York police officers and 37 officers for the Port Authority, the transportation agency that owned the Trade Center complex -- the twin towers and five smaller buildings.

But first responders helped 25,000 people evacuate the buildings before their collapse, according to a 2002 study by McKinsey & Co.

Orders to evacuate the entire Trade Center complex were issued within 10 minutes of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the north tower at 8:46 a.m., the commission's staff said in a report presented at the start of Tuesday's hearing.

But the order could be heard only by officers listening to the command channel of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police, the report found.

"There is no evidence that this order was communicated to officers in other Port Authority police commands or to members of other responding agencies," the staff's statement said.

Von Essen said the city's fire department had tried to upgrade radios to a digital system that would allow better coordination with other agencies but that the new radios -- issued in March 2001 -- were recalled after firefighters complained that transmissions "were stepping on each other."

In addition, repeated announcements over the south tower's public address system urged people to stay put during most of the 17 minutes between the two crashes. Workers in the south tower were advised to evacuate only a minute before hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into that building at 9:03 a.m., the staff's report concluded.

"We do not know the reason for this advice, in part because the on-duty deputy fire safety director in charge of the south tower perished in the tower's collapse," the staff reported.

Alan Reiss, the Port Authority's former World Trade Center director, compared the energy of the planes' impacts to the detonation of a tactical nuclear weapon. But he said the buildings' construction may have saved some lives.

"If the WTC complex did not exceed codes in so many ways, the 9/11 losses would surely have been much more horrific," Reiss said.

CNN producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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