FDNY Chief Cassano: Is New York ready for another 9/11?
It’s been nearly eight years since 9/11, and I wondered if New York was prepared for another large-scale incident. So I called New York City Fire Department Chief Salvatore Cassano and asked him point blank: Can the city respond to another terrorist attack?
Cassano said the FDNY will operate at full capacity if the city again is the target of a terrorist attack. He said a lot has changed since 2001. Overseeing all incidents in the city wasn’t an option pre-9/11 because technology was not in place to support large-scale emergency operations. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, the FDNY command center consisted of only a couple of phones and a couple of screens, he said. Response efforts also were hampered by a general inability to share information across local, state and federal agencies.
“It just was totally inefficient to handle any type of large-scale event. It was basically a notification center, so if something happened they would notify people but that was it. There was no major system,” he said. “We had very little information to send to the site at the World Trade Center, and I was getting very little information from the site to us to see what we could do for them. So we realized that it was totally inefficient — we knew that we needed a much better, improved state-of-the-art operations center for future events.”
Even if such technologies had been in place, it was the on-the-fly decisions that had to be made that was the most challenging aspect of that day, Cassano said. The city’s public-safety officials had only 102 minutes to make decisions. In that time, two planes crashed into two 100-story buildings, causing their collapse. Just think of the myriad decisions that had to be made during such a short period of time.
So the department made changes over the last eight years. Two way radios often fail because in-building coverage is insufficient. Now teams carry 25-pound, 45 W radios into high-rise buildings that officers use to communicate with command. In addition, the city has invested $18 million to build a new emergency operations center, where the chief can oversee operations within the five city boroughs and monitor each incident from a centralized location. The operations center connects all of the stations, as well as the FDNY to local, state and federal agencies. It also controls an advanced vehicle location system that tracks all fire department apparatus and stores that information at headquarters. The chief now can tell where all of his units are deployed and the type of incident — across the entire city — from one location. The EOC lets the chief get the most accurate, real-time information out to his field officers and firefighters at incidents, Cassano said.
The department also holds joint drills and table-top exercises.
“We have learned a tremendous lesson in interagency cooperation, sharing of information, being able to talk to each other,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for seven years so if an event happens the response will be automatic.”
Cassano hopes New York City won’t suffer another terrorist attack, but if it does, “we will be ready,” he said.
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