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Who was in charge?


After several days, rescue turned to recovery.


The government’s responsibility for recovering from a disaster is spelled out under the Federal Response Plan (FRP). Under this, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is designated as the lead agency for “consequence management,” meaning measures taken to protect public health and safety. This protocol focuses on physical recovery and rescue, providing environmental health services in a time of disaster—i.e. in assessing risks, providing protection in the event of chemical threats, etc.


Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began removing asbestos-contaminated dust from streets and buildings around the New York site, as well as cleaning debris from more than 300 cars, about a week after the incident. FEMA reported that EPA was continuing its air monitoring and establishing more air monitoring stations around the impact site and in New Jersey. At the Pentagon, it reported, water sampling and air quality monitoring stations revealed no elevated levels of asbestos or contamination.


Experts say that the response system designed for response to natural disasters worked very effectively for the response to the consequences of a terrorist attack, in the sense that federal agencies like HHS and the Army Corps of Engineers integrated well with local responders. “Disaster Medical Assist and Disaster Mortuary Teams were mobilized and deployed by the HHS Office of Emergency Preparedness and debris removal teams deployed by the US Army Corps of Engineers as local fire and rescue responded to the WTC and Pentagon,” notes The Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University.

Photo: Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo

However, because New York State is a “home-rule” state, the responsibility for managing the rescue and recovery was entrusted to the state. Because Mayor Giuliani exerted such leadership, the state was criticized for taking too much of a backseat during the crisis. "Gov. Pataki was criticized because he was not the leader supposedly (on Sept. 11). That's true. The mayor was the leader. New York State is a home rule state. All emergencies begin and end at the local level. We were there to support New York City during that time," New York state director of emergency response Ed Jacoby told reporter John Nagy of the Pew Center on the States (Stateline.org).

The city Fire Department was the so-called “incident command” from the beginning, and the city’s Department of Design and Construction was later appointed “co-incident commander” with fire officials.

“ It is tough duty and it takes unique individuals.”


However, some experts brought in to help assess the environmental damage say a significant problem early on was that the federal response plan did not anticipate—in fact, could not have anticipated—the kind of environmental impacts that struck the city on September 11 and was therefore not prepared to address it. 


Even Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA in an interview with Don Imus, was aghast at the hazards. He described them this way: “The rescue workers, fire, police the USR Teams they go into those pockets, and they run into carbon monoxide, which is deadly.  And that forces them to back out after about 20-25 minutes.  And take as much as an hour an hour and fifteen breaks to recoup.  And it’s very strenuous.  Not only on the physical side, but the mental side crawling around inside the rubble. It is tough duty and it takes unique individuals.  That’s why I think Americans ought to go to the Fire Departments and Police Departments and say “Thank you”.  And every one of these team that are coming in from outside of New York.  When they return they ought to be welcomed home …”

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