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Remembering 9/11 by the Numbers

Written by William Kushner

The numbers 2,996, 343, 23, 37, 15, 3, 1; 9/11. Numbers—to some, these are mere words representing digits on a piece of paper. To the emergency responders of the United States, these numbers represent lives lost as a result of the single most devastating terrorist attack to ever touch our shores.

The number 2,996 is the total number of lives lost on that fateful day. This includes first responders and citizens who were fatally injured because of things they inhaled during the rescue and recovery process.

There were 343 brave members of the New York Fire Department who perished in the Towers, along with 23 New York City Police Officers, 37 Port Authority Police Officers, 15 Emergency Medical Technicians, 3 Court Security Officers and 1 Bomb Canine.

Lives lost. Dreams obliterated. Families devastated. Also, for a time, American law enforcement felt powerless. That was 10 years ago.

The Nation was more united in the hours, days, weeks and months after the attacks than it had been in decades. Presidential directives were issued and our elected officials worked together across party lines to help pass laws that would make America safer and more secure. Laws were passed to help us do our jobs more effectively; to help protect our citizens from harm and to prevent another tragedy. Promises were made. Have they been kept?

Security at our nations’ airports has certainly been improved. Body scanners, sniffers, metal detectors and pat downs have become the norm. Information sharing between agencies at all levels has improved, in my experience, dramatically. The days of “We’re from (whatever organization), and we’re here to help you,” have given way to joint intelligence sharing consortiums meeting on at least a quarterly basis. Training across agency lines has improved as well, and communications will be improved.

The 9-11 Commission report cited that one of the major problems in the emergency response to the Towers was communications failure. Repeaters became inoperable. Simplex channels were only good up to the 30th floor. Police couldn’t talk to fire, and in some cases couldn’t cross talk with other police units because of the volume of traffic. The Towers had become the Tower of Babel.

Are we at the elusive state of “Interoperability?” I have to give a qualified “yes.” While the major city departments have radio systems and networks that allow personnel at one end of the city to speak seamlessly with personnel at the other end of the municipality, smaller agencies in some parts of the country are working on isolated radio frequencies and lack the ability, physically and financially, to upgrade their communications system to allow them to network with surrounding jurisdictions.

Events requiring a coordinated response from several different agencies point out the need, repeatedly, if not for true and complete interoperability, then need for available common radio frequencies in every portable in the country. Pre-planning for events always included communications. It is much easier when common frequencies are already programmed into the portables.

The other stumbling block to communications, and this may seem trite to some readers, is the need for all emergency responders to use plain text. I realize the 10 Codes have been around forever, and they help save air time. When disaster strikes and outside agencies rush in to assist, the assumptions cannot be made that everyone is using the same set of 10 Codes. The wide array of 10, Signal and Code talk must give way to plain talk. The use of plain text is a key component of interoperability.

The response to the World Trade Center by NYPD and FDNY and other agencies was heroic. The determination and selflessness exhibited not just by those who perished, but by all, was truly inspirational. It begs the questions, “Just how prepared is my agency? How prepared am I?” Training can take you only so far. Emergency planning at the personal level is great. Agencies need to face facts and realize that 9-11 wasn’t the end. It was the opening volley in a war that has conscripted us all. Stay safe. God Bless America.

William Kushner is the Chief of Police for Lakemoor, IL Police and may be reached at chief@lakemoor.net.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2011

Rating : 9.0


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