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Steven Kuhr: Put money into real planning and real exercises

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Few enjoy more first-hand knowledge of New York's efforts preparing for a terrorist attack than Steven Kuhr, who held the post of deputy director of the city's Office of Emergency Management from 1996 to 2000.

Kuhr was on staff when former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani created the office in 1995, and he earlier served as deputy chief of the city fire department's special operations division.

As a senior director at Kroll Associates, a crisis and management group, Kuhr now consults with cities on domestic preparedness issues.'s Mike Fish recently spoke with Kuhr about his New York experience and the post- September 11 rush to raise the level of preparedness in cities across the country.

CNN.COM: Is it true that New York officials were told the World Trade Center towers were so constructed that they wouldn't collapse?

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STEVEN KUHR: Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to be involved in the response to the 1993 bombing (of the World Trade Center), and there were some assumptions made by engineering folks that those towers just couldn't come down. That was talking about the type of explosion that occurred in '93. However, I'm not sure anybody had ever taken into account jumbo, wide-body aircraft (crashing into the towers).

CNN: How much has this incident taken out of the emergency management team?

SK: New York City is fortunate to have a very robust, very dynamic emergency management infrastructure in place. Mayor Giuliani put that in place in 1996. I happened to have been part of that team. One of the key focuses of the office was counter-terrorism work, responding to the consequence of a chemical weapons attack, a biological weapons attack or a high-yield explosive event. Really, this was a high-yield explosive.

For an agency that lost its infrastructure -- the office was in tower 7 of the Trade Center -- and had a number of its people injured, they have been very resilient. They have come back up and are heavily engaged recovering from the event and preparing for another event.

CNN: What was the impetus in 1996?

SK: Well, there were a series of events in the early '90s that caused Giuliani to create OEM. Certainly, the '93 bombing at the World Trade Center, where the response was as organized as it could have been without having a centralized emergency management agency in the city. But it could have been better organized. Certainly, the release of sarin in the Tokyo subway in '95 had an affect on the mayor. There was a subway bombing in '94 or '95 (in New York City) - a fire bombing in the subway - and there was some disorganization at that response. You had multiple command posts, agencies not coordinating their activities.

CNN: How well have other cities reacted since September 11?

SK: I know Chicago has taken a tremendous positive step to prepare its downtown area. From what I can tell, cities are starting to take a close look at plans that they already had put in place. We've been working on terrorism aggressively since the mid-'90s, but now we're taking a closer look at it. There are a ton of lessons to learn from the World Trade Center event and the anthrax situations and how to respond.

CNN: Where do the changes need to be made?

SK: The Department of Defense and Department of Justice have put a tremendous amount of money into planning. The programs could have been stronger. Now, we need to take a look at what we did in the '90s, look at what happened September 11, how we responded to that and to the anthrax events, and now put money into real planning and real exercises.

CNN: How would you propose to upgrade the programs?

SK: A lot of the exercises were done -- and I worked on some nationally -- with scenarios that were really not as catastrophic or not realistic or credible. Some of the exercises were done based on local politics, local needs or local desire. We need to build credible exercises and then not just walk away from the cities, but then do real after-action analysis, where it is not just a bunch of fire guys patting each other on the back saying: "Look how good we did.'' We need to be honest and kick ourselves in the butt.



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