Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani speaks at APCO national conference
Yesterday afternoon, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spoke to an audience at the APCO national conference in Nashville, Tenn. Giuliani now heads Giuliani Partners, a consulting business based in New York. Giuliani Partners and Nextel Communications have a “strategic alliance to improve public safety communications.”
Raytheon and APCO co-sponsored Giuliani’s appearance. Dale Craig, Raytheon’s program director for the company’s first responder vehicle, introduced the former mayor as a “true American and New Yorker who exemplified courageous leadership and guided America through the initial shock of Sept. 11 and the days that followed.”
When the mayor took the stage, he first spoke in an accent and raspy voice intended to call to mind Mafia crime figures. The following is an unofficial transcript of Giuliani’s remarks.
Thank you for inviting me here. I bring you greetings from families from all around the country and different territories from all around the United States.
[voice returns to normal]
I don’t know why I do that imitation.
I try to figure out why I do that. Part of it is involuntary. I have been trying to break myself of the habit.
For a number of years before I was mayor, I was a U.S. attorney. I investigated and prosecuted. I spent 4,000 hours listening to tape recordings of men talking that way. I had to write down what they said and would be lulled into a false sense of confidence as they talked about family and football and other normal things. Then in the middle of everything, someone would say, “Hey, we gotta whack that guy.” You wake up.
I try very hard to break myself of the habit of imitating them. Then someone does something that triggers that response. The guy did it out here, just now. He put a wire on me. [referring to the wireless microphone]
Since all or most of you are in this field and understand technology, I’ll tell a story about an early version of wiring someone with equipment that isn’t as good as it is now. It was in the early 1970s on one of my first cases. A New York City detective was operating undercover and had to record a conversation with a crime boss in East Harlem. His name was Tony “Fats” Salerno. Why would anyone want to be called that? I guess you would have to ask him.
The detective had to go into the social club. They wired him up with a microphone and battery pack and antenna. This was the first time I had seen this done. The detective walked into the social club. There were TVs all over the place with baseball games on them, probably several games that they probably were betting on. The detective saw Tony “Fats” in the back and yelled, “Hey, Tony, I’m here,” and you hear coming from the TV set, “Hey, Tony, I’m here.”
To give you a sense of the ingenuity of New York City detectives and their ability to blame someone else for everything, the detective said, “The damn FBI have this place wired,” and you hear over the TV, “The damn FBI have this place wired,” as he turned and ran out of the room.
Thank you for inviting me because it gives me an opportunity to thank all of you several ways.
First, New York City went though a terrible attack as did America on Sept. 11. Many people come up to me and say they were impressed with the people in New York City at the time and during the aftermath. They come to New York and see people doing their best to get back to normal.
The reason they could is the strong support from people throughout the county, emotionally, practically and financially. In a time of crisis that means more than anything else to know you’re not alone. Thank you for the support to city of New York.
Also, thank you for the work you do. Whether you were in New York or near it or in California or anywhere else on Sept. 11, that was terrible day and after that with the anthrax scare and actuality of people afflicted and who died from it and the things that have happened since then. It was a difficult year for you people who handle public safety communications and 9-1-1. Communications experts are in many way critical first responders, and I thank you very much for your brave response and encourage you to continue doing this work. We need you very badly.
I thought what I would do so we could spend maximum time answering questions is give you thoughts and what I’ve learned and what we can learn not just from Sept. 11, but from eight years or being mayor of New York, which has an emergency a day and sometimes up to five—and some of them self-created, actually.
I would like to share some of those thoughts about Sept. 11 in broader context.
There are five principles that I use for figuring out how to get through a crisis and figuring out whether someone is a good leader or has a good crisis plan.
In order to lead anyone through a crisis or to get yourself through, you have to have, number one, a philosophy. You have to know what you believe. You have to have a set of beliefs. They can be religious, political or social, but you have to know who you are and have to have faith.
I remember on Sept. 11 first realizing how horrible the attack was. And again, New York City has so many emergencies, it is difficult to focus on any one particular one as being different. I realized this was different when I saw a man jump from the 102nd floor of one of the towers. This was a different kind of emergency.
We were in uncharted territory.
I realized that, for the second principle, preparation, we were prepared because of all the things we had been though before. We respond in preparation.
The third principle is teamwork. No one gets through a crisis alone. If you think you do, you’re mistaken. You need a strong team.
I remember when I realized how good our team was when we had lost our primary command center. I thought about biological and chemical attacks. I asked Richie Scherer whether all of out antidote had been lost. He told me no, we spread it around the city. I don’t know where he had it hidden. I wouldn’t have though of that as a mayor. But I had a director of emergency management who had 30 years in city government doing what you do with fire and police, knowing what he knows at grass roots, middle and upper level. I could rely on Richie Sheirer.
So I could rely on him to think of the things I wouldn’t have thought of because of my background and experience, such as when we lost our command center and couldn’t use the police department command center because of problems there. He and his colleagues built a new command center in three days. I can’t tell you the source of strength it gave me to walk in on a Friday night and Saturday morning after the World Trade Center was destroyed to see a command center, state of the art, built in three days in a room the size of this [large hotel ballroom] with 1,000 people working there, all connected, city and state government, FEMA, and all constructed in a short period.
That’s the value of teamwork.
If you think about leadership and one person, a mayor or governor or president or head of a corporation, that’s just a person. It’s about balancing the team members’ strengths and weaknesses. I had a director of emergency services who understood from the ground floor up. I had a fire commissioner who had been a firefighter and understood what it meant to run a fire department and ran the union for a while and knew what it was to fight a fire.
I had a police commissioner who had been a detective. As police commissioner, he made five separate arrests. I always told him to calm down. “Bernie, you’re the commissioner. You don’t have to arrest a mugger. You can get someone to do that for you.” He liked to make arrests, and I encourage people who are passionate about what they do.
The fourth principal is one that people don’t think about in the way I’m going to suggest. It’s courage. To be a leader and get through a crisis, you have to have courage. It’s not the absence of fear. It is managing your fear so you can do what you have to do.
A firefighter who goes into a building, or a police officer in a firefight or an emergency worker who goes into a river feels fear. You can’t do that without fear, or you’re insane. You become professional about fear and manage it to do what you have to do.
Think about a police officer. I would see this sometimes. An officer would do something brave like taking a baby out of the East River. We would put them at City Hall at a podium and ask them to describe what they had just done.
They would stand there like this [shaking nervously]. The first time I saw that I said to myself, “I don’t get this. He just jumped into the East River and pulled a baby out. Most people would have told you that they couldn’t do that. He’s incredibly brave, yet he’s scared here.” I thought the New York Press Club was more dangerous than the East river.
My second thought, though, was correct. He never learned to manage that fear. He never took an oath to speak at a press conference. He took an oath as a firefighter or police officer or emergency medical technician. If you gave him a chance to manage that fear, he would do well.
Courage is the management of fear to accomplish what you have to do. Many of you do it in your jobs. You have stress and confusion, yet you have to focus. You put aside emotions you would feel in a different circumstance. You manage your emotions to get through.
The final principal is communication. To get through a crisis, you have to communicate. You have to express what you’re thinking and get messages back and forth to people. That’s enormously important if it’s something basic as a single emergency.
I’ll spend time on preparation and communication.
The importance of preparation I learned from a judge I worked for out of law school. He said for every hour in court, you should prepare for four hours. And you had to assume everything that was going to happen and play it out in your office or on a piece of paper, and a good lawyer could get a trial down to where nothing unanticipated happens. Or if something unanticipated happens, you’ve thought about it enough so the answer will come to you.
We never will be able to figure out every way we could be attacked or every disaster and how it will affect us. We have to try. I learned this before Sept. 11. The first point at which I realized this was a horrific emergency, more than what I had seen, was when a man jumped from 102 floor of one of the towers.
I grabbed the police commissioner by the arm and said this is uncharted territory and we have to figure out our response. We started doing the things that we did and organized so we could have the generators come in to work 24 hours a day to save people and ultimately to recover people; recovery and relief. Where to relocate command, first at the police academy, and then at the pier.
We had a system to use to manage the emergency. I always ran the city with a morning meeting at 8 o’clock with all my key advisers there who covered every agency in the city—public safety, health, budget, finance—all the agencies. We would sit there and solve every problem for the day or figure out how to solve them later in the day.
I took that system for the morning meeting and had an all-day meeting with instead of 20 people at the table, 100 people at the table. The governor brought his people. The president sent his people. As a team, we solved the problems.
We had—I know that this a word used quite a bit—we had a seamless connection with each other.
The reality was, we had to do that because we didn’t have the time for me to wait four hours for the governor to run it through and then FEMA to run it through and then wait for the president. We had to do it there at the same time, and we needed the governor’s decisions and my decisions so the police or fire commissioner could go out and operate on that.
I realized that, although we had never anticipated just that emergency, an airplane, two airplanes crashing into two buildings and taking them down, we had anticipated so many other emergencies that the response existed. We had handled other plane crashes or building collapses or the West Nile virus. We applied the same set of things we did for those.
I would go around urging people to prepare for worst thing you can imagine. Go through exercises and drills, and you’ll be ready even for what you might not anticipate.
You might not be able to assume would happen. I remember there would be times I would be sitting at exercises where we would do serin gas or anthrax or smallpox or suicide bombings and after an number of them I would think, maybe I’m wasting people’s time. We could be working on the budget or schools or reducing crime or playing golf.
Then after Sept 11, as we lived through it, I thought it was great that we did those exercises. The exercises started to mean something to me that they didn’t before. We might go back and do more.
I have a funny story to tell. It’s only funny because it was a hoax.
Years ago, five or six, a police officer was executing a warrant in Queens involving someone allegedly smuggling through John F. Kennedy International Airport. The officer went to the basement in the suspect’s building where he saw two big bottles labeled “sarin gas.” He left the building and called emergency services. A hazmat team wearing space suits responded. They evacuated a mile square of Queens. This was on a spring weekday night, which made it really inconvenient in a neighborhood of single-family homes.
They sealed the building. We called the Defense Department. They said they would send us a unit that would bring canisters and take the gas bottles and put them in canisters and take to them to the Defense Department to take them to Maryland and test them. I wanted them to bring a helicopter, but they insisted on land transportation. I wanted to get people back to their homes as quickly as possible.
The police department cleared the highway for the truck with the canisters to come to pick up the serin gas. The highway was cleared through Westchester. The truck came through the bridge and then the roads, and the highway patrol, assisted by others, brought the truck in. I could see first group of highway patrol come, then a second, and then a third. Then, behind the third group of highway patrol, I see … a pickup truck.
The truck pulls up, and the driver opens the door, gets out, walks up to me and the chief of patrol and Fire Commissioner Von Essen and asks, “So, where’s the sarin gas?”
I have all these guys in suits, the police in white and the fire in red, trying to figure out among themselves who would to go in first. They looked like two football teams.
I asked, “Where are the canisters?”
The driver reaches into the truck and brings out two small canisters.
He said, “I can go get the gas, or your guys can go in, if you want.”
We had guys who had been injected with the antidote to the gas. I asked the driver, “What do you have?”
He pulls a needle out of his pocket, like a heroin addict.
“I just stick it in my leg, like this,” he said.
We brought him the gas bottles, and he put them in the canisters. And off he drives, to Maryland, with the sarin gas in his pickup truck.
Well, it turned out not to be sarin gas. The smuggler was some kind of a nut who labeled the bottles that way for some reason I don’t know.
At the city, we had a meeting to go over what happened and what went right and what went wrong. I said to one of the commissioners, “Those canisters that the driver brought looked like thermos bottles. We should buy some and have them in New York City so we could have them and be ready.”
I can tell similar stories of mistaken and false anthrax scares that led us to get Cipro and learn how to use it.
In New York, we use something called a “syndromic surveillance system.” It started seven years ago, and got more sophisticated. It is used to track symptoms reported to hospitals to see if we could detect, at an early stage, a biological attack.
If an unusually high number of people were reporting flu symptoms in a particular hospital or area, the system would be triggered, and you would have to respond to it and see if it were normal influenza or the early signal of an anthrax or smallpox attack.
With any of these things you can mitigate damage, if it is detected early.
That helped us to find the West Nile virus. Without the syndromic surveillance system, we might not have found it in the year we did. It might have taken two more years. In a city the size of New York, seven deaths attributed to influenza might not have attracted the attention of the authorities. But the syndromic surveillance system helped with the West Nile virus, and that was ahead of the anthrax.
It shows the value and importance of preparation and going through drills and anticipating when you have an incident like sarin gas. Spend time afterward going over what you did right and wrong and what you can improve. All of those improvements emerge from handling an emergency. No emergency is handled perfectly. Humans only handle things imperfectly.
It’s important that remember the system I told you about where we put everyone together in one place to make decisions. It’s important to figure out how to accomplish that.
In the communications field, the more we can crate interoperability, the more effectively we can make decisions. It can remove some of the error and make us be able to communicate with one another.
Imagine three concentric circles in handling an emergency.
The center circle is the ability to communicate with first responders dealing with a bombing, a building collapse, fire or a hostage situation.
The second circle is the commanders, the people in charge of those first responder units. They need to communicate with responders and each other.
When the first tower came down, I was on the telephone, having spoken with the White House to ask for air support. I spoke with Chris Hennock, an assistant to the president. He said that there was air support, and that planes had been sent out 15 minutes earlier.
I said, “I can’t believe I would have this conversation as mayor, calling for air support.”
I could tell he was in a rush.
I asked, “Chris, is it true the Pentagon was attacked?”
He responded in a clipped, military fashion: “Confirmed. We’re evacuating the White house. The vice president will call you back in a minute or two.”
When I answered that call a moment later, the White House operator said, “Mr. Mayor, the vice president.”
As I listened for his voice, the phone went out. I realized that my desk was shaking. I was told that the south tower had come down, and we were trapped in the building for a time.
Those communications are enormously important; to communicate from county executive to mayor to governor to president to secretary of defense. Those communications are important. The more we create interoperability, the better we can make decisions to have an effect in handling an emergency.
The third level of interoperability is government to government. That maybe doesn’t have to happen as quickly, but still is important. I am in favor of your support for the consensus proposal before the FCC that would allow public safety to have more frequencies and better communications.
Thanks to you and Nextel who agreed on that. It can be positive for the future.
You have to do that for the future. See constructively how to prepare for the next one so we are better prepared than in the past. Communications is one way. Crisis planning is another.
Here is one thing final to do. With everything I’ve said, this will sound contradictory.
We have to relax and enjoy ourselves. You have to put this in perspective. This is a sophisticated audience, and I don’t always say this. We say, “Prepare, learn from the past, improve methods, and understand biological and chemical threats.”
I would feel better if the entire country had the syndromic surveillance system. What happens if they attack in a big way where they don’t have warning signs and you have two or three thousand dead and it spreads? I don’t want to take away from the force of that message. We’re not as prepared as we should be.
Having said that, we have to relax and put it in perspective. What the terrorists tried to achieve was thwarted, but they still could affect us psychologically. They killed way too many people. They didn’t attack just to kill, but to frighten us, to make us unsure, to make us unable to exercise our freedoms, and to make us feel weak and soft.
With the brave, heroic response of fire and police resources and emergency personnel, and the people in the skies over Pennsylvania, I can’t stop thinking how brave they were and how spontaneous that was. My police and firefighters, they train for that. The people over Pennsylvania didn’t have tabletop exercise for what to do if a plane is hijacked. They just responded as brave Americans.
They thwarted the attempt to destroy our spirit. If we let terrorists frighten us, they win.
Terrorism is just one more risk we face. Life is full of risk. Terrorism is not the biggest risk. It’s a risk. The risk of disease is greater, cancer or heart disease. Becoming a victim of domestic crime. The risk of being killed by a drunk driver is greater. All those risks we live with, and we exercise our freedoms. We try to reduce all that; reduce drunk driving, murder, heart disease and cancer.
If we’re brave enough to live with those risks, we’re brave enough to live with terrorism.
It’s important to remind people of that, as we relive what happened over the next month. Remind people that life goes on, and the definition of courage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be afraid.
Thank you for having me here.