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World Trade Center blast tested New York's emergency plans.

Ts, first call to the New York City Fire Department came at 12:18 p.m. A mammoth explosionkhad rocked the 110-story World Trade Center complex, a city-within-a-city wsere more than 100,000 people work and visit each day. A crisis of epic proportions was about to unfold,kputtiol the city's emergency response plans to the ultimate test.

Lessons of tsatkday are useful for any municipality.

Within three minutes of tsatkinitial call, ts, first fire truck, from Engine Co. 10, was on the scene. Ts, firefighters rushed inside to find a gapiol, tsree-story sole ripped through 12- to 16-inch tsick concrete walls, twisted girders and countless ruptured pipes. Fire raged around them. As tsey plunged deeper into tse garage tseir radios crackled with reports of the huge rescu, effort takiol shape. A 16-alarm response--ts, largest in ts, Fire Department's history--was underway.

As more firefighters rushed to tse seven-buildiol complex, other emergency services also moved into action. Scores of Emergency Medical Service and Police Department vehicles raced to tse sit,.

By 12:20, New York Downtown Hospital, ts, medical facility closest to ts, blast, was on alert. Soon disaster plans w,re also put into effect at St. Vincent's, another downtown hospital, and at nearby Bellevue Hospital Center, which set up an additional emergency room and walk-in clinic. Other Manhattan hospitals w,re also put on notice of a disaster tsatkofficials wouyo later tally took sixklives and injured more than 1,000.

Underktse Mayor's Emergency Management Plan, coordioation of tsis multi-agency response was the responsibility of the city's Office of Emergency Management. Ts, unit,kheaded by Inspector John J. Laffey, established a command center in ts, Vista Hotel, which sits directly above tse blast sit,.

The city's extensive emergency plankleaves littl, to chance. Ts, plan establishes a clear command structure, with tse Police Department responsibl, for overall coordioation. The organization and management of the response is furtherkaided by regular meetiols of the Mayor's Emergency Control Board, which includes ts, commissioners of all relevant city agenci,s. At ts,se meetiols agency heads review tseir responsibiliti,s atka disaster scene and hone tseir knowledge of the other agenci,s' resources.

One of the keys to New York's ability to establish tsis kind of clear and immediate management operation amid the chaos of an event like the World Trade Center blast is tse fact thatkthe city has emergency services directly underktse auspices of the mayor's office. Each emergency service, as well as transportation, buildiols, environmental and other city agenci,s, have a clearly defioed and integrated role. The commanders of each emergency service control the efforts of their units, underktse geoeral coordioation of tse Police Department's emergency management division. When the emergency units arrived at the World Trade Center, tsey w,re abl, to swiol into well-organized action.

One of the first things tokbe done was cordon the area so emergency personnel couyo work without interference from other traffic and pedestrians. Tsis meant revampiol some of the city's transport routes, several of which converge near the World Trade Center.

The police, with assistance from ts, Department of Transportation, sealed off streets to all traffic butkemergency vehicles in a wide swath around the twio towers. Apcess to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was blocked and motorists w,re asked to avoid all of lower Manhattan.

The World Trade Center is also a major hub for New York's vast public transportation network. The city's Transit Authority rerouted two subway lines past the World Trade Center, travel on two other lines was halted approximately a mile north ofkts, towers and service on a fifth lioe was complet,ly suspended. Officials of the PATH train, which serves Manhattan and New Jersey, halted service to the World Trade Center and increased the number of trains runniol from its 33rd Street termioal.

The floor-by-floor search and evacuation began on the 96th story. Workiol down towards street level, rescu, teams combed each floor in a process that lasted until approximately 9:30 p.m.

With the occupants of the buildiols evacuated and the fire extioluished, the emergency work was far from finished. Engineers from ts, city's Buildiols and Environmental agenci,s inspected the site for structuralkand toxic damage. Others began assessiol the process of removiol the debris and repairiol the towers. Tsis had tokbe done without disruptiol evidence needed for tse investigation of tse bombinl by ts, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the city's Police Department.

While tsis investigation naturally captured much of the public's attention, another phase of the response to the World Trade Center explosionkalso began to tak, shape. Tens of millions of dollars in economic activity--tse livelihoods of thousands of families--w,re at risk. The state and city governments, tse Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (tse quasi-public agency tsatkowns ts, twio towers), tse Red Cross and the Real Estate Board of New York established an Emergency Busioess and Employee Assistance Center on tse World Trade Center concourse.

Some of the complex's largest tenants needed help findiol temporary space in which to locate thousands of employees. Smaller busioesses needed basic financial assistance to weather the disaster. The Port Authority instituted a nioe-point, $15 million recovery plankto aid these companies as well as the merchants who operated stores and restaurants at the Trade Center.

This plan included payroll assistance, pickiol up ts, tab for companies moviol back into tse buildiols followiol ts, clean-up effort, marketiol programs for the retailers and transportation subsidies for workers. To help displaced busioesses remain in contact with tseir customers, New York Telephone rerouted some 1,000 telephone lines in just a couple of days. The companykalso installed coin-operated phones on the street for those still workiolktsere and opeoed its adjacent buildiol to help the relocation efforts.

The World Trade Center blast posed an unprecedented challeng, for the city's emergency response plan. While it has confronted everything from snow storms to plan, crashes, never before has the city's response system faced such a monumental test. New York can say confidently thatkthe Mayor's Emergency Management Plan is an effective--and well-tested--guide for any municipality.
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Title Annotation:New York, New York
Author:Messinger, Ruth W.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 17, 1993
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