TO THE EDITOR
UPDATES & NEWS
CONTACT NEW YORK
The Evacuation & Emergency Response
to the WTC on 9/11
April 8, 2003 Columbia WTC Evacuation Study Forum
Good Evening. My name is Monica Gabrielle and I am Co-Chairperson of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign. I would like to thank Dr. Robyn Gershon and the Columbia WTC Evacuation Study Team for the invitation to speak.
My husband, Rich, was one of the almost 3,000 innocent souls murdered on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. He was also one of those unfortunates who was injured, but alive, waiting to be rescued, and yet unable to get out of Tower 2 before it collapsed - enduring untold horror, pain and suffering. I want to know why! And in discovering why, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign and I want to ensure that this never happens again.
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign represents change. Change to emergency evacuation procedures, change to design practices and change to our building and fire codes.
However, no discussion of WTC evacuation, safety practices, and code compliance can be honestly undertaken without acknowledging the fact that the WTC, as built by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, was a building that was totally immune from Federal, State, & NYC Building and Fire Codes, therefore rendering it "untouchable" by any governing agencies!
The first and most germane question must be: Why was such a building ever allowed to be constructed, what will be the role of Columbia and other studies, and what is the role of a "democratic" society in general, in assuring that such code-immune buildings will never again be built in this, or any other City?
What are the rights of the occupants of such buildings to know that they are working in a "code-immune" environment, whose safety features cannot be monitored by the governmental agencies that have the obligation to safeguard the public? Whose role is it to inform the public regarding these issues?
We should not, and cannot, ascribe the needless loss of life of 3,000 innocent persons to the trite sound bite of "lessons learned". The families of the victims deeply resent this term which is often used as a replacement for accountability and responsibility and for focusing on practices which were deathly negligent and which undeniably contributed to the massive and needless loss of life at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Some questions the Skyscraper Safety Campaign would like to see addressed in the Columbia study include:
- What role do the emergency first responders have with regard to the safe evacuation of building occupants? On 9/11, the FDNY radios did not work in the WTC, a fact that was common knowledge by the City of NY since at least 1993. In addition, FDNY radios do not work in many other skyscrapers in NYC. How can building occupants be safely evacuated from skyscrapers if rescue workers cannot communicate with each other in high-rise buildings? What is the role of a responsible society to assure that this does not happen? Who is responsible, and who will change this practice? What would enhance the ability to ensure the safe evacuation of all occupants in an emergency?
- What role does OSHA play with regard to the safety of employees in the work place, and most especially, is that role different for tall buildings? If OSHA is a valid governmental oversight entity, why did it initially announce a call for letters of complaint (from the families of the victims), receive in excess of 100, and then announce that contrary to historical and statutory practice, no fines or criminal charges would be filed against the WTC? Should their responsibility be expanded? Should they be held more accountable if protocol and procedures are not followed?
- What role do building management and the employer play with regard to the safety and security of employees and occupants? Should they be held more accountable if safety protocol and procedures are not followed? What can be done to assure better communication and dissemination of critical information regarding safe evacuation in the case of an emergency?
- What role will the design and construction of future buildings play in the safety of occupants? What additional changes, safeguards and practices can and should be put in place for both present and future construction?
We would like the Columbia Team to work towards building bridges with organizations that have the ability to serve as "agents of change" regarding building codes, standards, and practices. Some groups, which can serve as "agents of change," include:
- ICC - International Codes Council
- NFPA - National Fire Protection Association
(including their Codes division, not just the Statistics division)
- ASME -American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(includes elevator safety, etc)
- AIA - American Institute of Architects, and
- ADA - Disabled Advocacy Groups
While the Skyscraper Safety Campaign endorses the interviewing of survivors and victims' families, we do not want findings to be embedded in a report within a synopsis of interviews. Rather, it is our concern that the end product the Columbia Report be specific, with concrete suggestions for such things as procedures for drills, and other issues related to the safe evacuations of buildings.
The Report should be delivered in language and presentation that is clear, concise, and specific. It should be formatted in such a manner that will be usable by Agencies who have the authority to implement these findings and recommendations. For example, the SSC would hope that such a report would include specific areas such as:
- Codes Section
- Design Practice Section: regarding egress from buildings, stairway width and design, auditory and visual cues, etc.
- Procedures: such as how to effect better building evacuations in general, focusing on training, equipment, etc.
We want The Columbia Study Team to clearly understand that the goal of implementing change is the most important reason that the SSC would be willing to participate in this study. Therefore, we anticipate that our mutual goal will be to assure safety, security, code changes and implementation of safe evacuation procedures and practices through the findings and recommendations of the Columbia study.
We need to look at the "deadly mistakes" of 9/11. We need to make the necessary safeguards available to prevent any other needless deaths from unsafe buildings. We must study evacuation issues of the WTC buildings, which had three narrow staircases for a building designed to hold 25,000 people; stairway walls made of flimsy gypsum board; elevators which locked people in, and roof and stairwell doors which were locked. Finally, we need to study how a building whose parts should have withstood a three-hour fire rating, collapsed in less than an hour!
Economic loss can always be recovered. The loss of life can never be returned to us. The price we paid is much too high to not demand a return. That return must be the living legacy of change. When this is achieved, my husband and the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of unspeakable horror will not have died in vain. We look forward to working with Columbia University on this most important study.
Skyscraper Safety Campaign
BACK TO TOP