Group Speaks at Sept. 11 Panel Hearing
By LAURENCE ARNOLD
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, N.J. -- The federal commission studying the Sept. 11 attacks should press for wholesale improvements in the construction, fireproofing and evacuation of high-rise buildings, two skyscraper safety advocates said Wednesday.
"Unbelievably, evacuation and emergency preparedness were sorely lacking or totally nonexistent on 9-11," Monica Gabrielle, whose husband Richard was killed at the World Trade Center, told the independent panel.
Gabrielle, co-chair of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, was among the witnesses at a hearing of National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The hearing focused on how government and private industry can cooperate to improve emergency planning.
The commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, said many company tenants of the World Trade Center towers lacked evacuation plans or had not practiced them. "In other words, employees didn't know what to do," he said.
Gabrielle said building managers and tenant companies should have overhauled their procedures after the first terrorist attack on the complex, a 1993 bombing, revealed flaws in evacuation procedures.
Sally Regenhard, founder and chairwoman of the skyscraper advocacy group, fought back tears as she conjured the pitfalls that awaited her son, Christian, and other New York City firefighters responding to the burning towers.
Emergency stairwells should have been wider, she said, and firefighter radio communications _ which had emerged as a problem after the 1993 bombing _ remained inadequate.
"The widespread failures in evacuation procedures, building code issues and emergency communications became a prescription for disaster," said Regenhard, whose son was among the 343 firefighters killed.
She urged the commission to endorse the idea of giving fire protection experts more of a say in the design and construction of large buildings.
The bipartisan, 10-member commission was created by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before Sept. 11 and its response to the attacks, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters. Its report is due May 27.
Glenn Corbett, an assistant professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the Department of Homeland Security should develop standards for designing buildings that could be terrorism targets. No comprehensive national code currently exists, he said.
Fiduciary Trust Company International, which was based on five high floors in the World Trade Center's south tower, lost 87 employees in the attacks. Since then, the company has created an emergency management team and taken steps to assure recovery of data in case of a disaster, president William Y. Yun told the commission.
But he added that when the company sought new office space in Manhattan, it intentionally selected floors close to the ground. "People take a great comfort from that, from an employee perspective," he said.
The hearing was at Drew University, where Kean is president. Keeping with the theme, the university distributed yellow sheets spelling out emergency procedures in case of a fire.
Kean, a former governor of New Jersey, had pledged to hold a hearing in the state because so many residents lost loved ones on Sept. 11. Rows and rows of extra chairs were hastily set up to accommodate nearly 300 members of the public.
Some audience members brought signs proclaiming frustration over the panel's dealings with the government.
The commission's work over the past few months has been stalled by disputes over documents it requested from the government. Last week, it reached a deal with the Bush administration to gain access _ with certain restrictions _ to intelligence reports that President Bush received before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Look at the whole truth, Tom Kean," said one sign held by Sergio and Johanna Burani, residents of Mendham, N.J., who lost a friend on Sept. 11. They said the commission shouldn't have accepted any conditions on its access to government documents.
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