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Crash Scenario Foretold in '93
WTC official wanted plan for jet disaster

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By Graham Rayman

November 12, 2001

A former World Trade Center director suggested in a public hearing after the 1993 bombing there that the Port Authority and city emergency agencies train for the scenario of an airplane slamming into the towers, a transcript shows.

But the March 29, 1993, recommendation of Guy Tozzoli - who was so closely associated with the complex that he was known as "Mr. World Trade Center" - was overlooked. No training exercise involving an airplane scenario was done, senior Port Authority officials said last week.

In September 2000, however, the Port Authority and the Fire Department did conduct a simulation of a five-alarm fire on the 93rd floor of one tower, an exercise officials described as a "major disaster drill."

The Tozzoli recommendation ultimately may be a footnote in history, but, according to one expert, it seems to contradict the contentions of officials that no one could have prepared for such an event.

"The fact that this was explicitly suggested by Port Authority personnel in a public hearing certainly suggests that there was or should have been awareness of this threat and consideration of planning for it among the effected agencies," said Charles Jennings, a professor of fire protection at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

In the wake of Sept. 11, Jennings said there is a need for a high-level independent review of the incident to document what happened and try to draw long-term lessons.

At the time of the hearings, the focus was security within the tower garage - where terrorists detonated a massive truck bomb, killing six people and injuring 1,000 - and the difficulties of the huge evacuation.

State Sen. Roy Goodman, who presided over the hearings, did not include Tozzoli's recommendation in his 34-page report on the 1993 hearings titled "A Tragic Wake-Up Call." Of the four daily newspapers, only Newsday wrote about the hearing, focusing on fire-code issues. Tozzoli's testimony was not mentioned in the press.

Though Goodman omitted Tozzoli's recommendation from the report, he said through a spokesperson yesterday: "Unfortunately recommendations were largely ignored as time dulled the sensitivity of the public to terrorist threats."

Port Authority spokesman Allan Morrison said the agency spent more than $50 million to upgrade security throughout the complex after 1993, and millions more on safety improvements.

"We believe that the World Trade Center was one of the most secure office buildings in America from a terrorism prevention point of view," Morrison said. "Obviously, there are limits to our ability to prevent against all possible acts of terrorism, not to mention the unprecedented act of war of Sept. 11."

Tozzoli made the suggestion on the third day of the hearings, the transcript said. He was the final witness, and his recommendation was his last statement in the hearing.

When Goodman asked Tozzoli for advice, he recalled that in the late 1970s, Port Authority personnel, along with city fire marshals, police, the Emergency Medical Service and officials from local hospitals, performed a similar drill in the towers, the transcript said.

"I thought back to one thing we had done in the 1970s," said Tozzoli, who retired from the Port Authority in 1987. "[We] simulated on a Sunday, the disaster of the airplane hitting the building. Together with the Fire Department, Police Department, EMS, hospital, and senator, that might not be a bad idea to try that in other public buildings."

"The building management simulated a total disaster?" Goodman asked.

"Total. Total disaster," Tozzoli replied.

"Did fire marshals participate?" Goodman asked.

"Everybody," Tozzoli replied. "Fire marshals, the city, the Police Department, the hospitals. They're very important. And I remember we simulated blood coming out of people. The medical department was there, and it really was a real preparation for a disaster, if you would.

"It's very difficult to talk about a bomb," he added. "But you know, things can happen. And I thought this is probably a very good idea."

Earlier in his testimony, Tozzoli described a computer simulation performed back when the towers were still under construction. The simulation used a 707, the largest jet at the time, flying at 220 mph into one of the towers, he said.

"The computer said it would blow out the structural steel supports along one side of the building completely to seven floors, and naturally there would be a large loss of life on those seven floors because of the explosion," Tozzoli testified.

"However, the structure of the building would permit the 50 floors or whatever it is above to remain and not topple because the loans would distribute themselves around the other three walls and then eventually be assimilated in the floors below."

In the three days of hearings, that was the only time that an airplane scenario came up in any detail.

"I don't know if they did it [the training exercise]," Tozzoli said in a telephone interview last week. "We practiced it back then [in the late '70s] just to have people trained within the city for that particular scenario."

Alan Reiss, a Port Authority official who ran the trade center until July, said in an interview that no exercise based on an airplane scenario was done over the past eight years.

He said, though, that almost exactly one year before the attacks, in September 2000, the Port Authority and Fire Department participated in an exercise on a Sunday morning that simulated a five-alarm fire on an upper floor in one of the towers.

Five Fire Department engine companies were involved in the exercise, which occurred on an empty floor. Smoke generators were employed, and the elevators were unavailable.

"It was a major full-floor high-rise fire," Reiss said. "It was a full-scale fire simulation."

Frank Gribbon, a spokesman for the Fire Department, said the exercise was videotaped.

After 1993, the Port Authority added 10,000-pound planters around the buildings, security barriers in the garage, a photo identification system, surveillance cameras and other security upgrades.

The agency also added back-up power and lighting systems, independent fire command stations in each building and other safety improvements.

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

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