Home / Release of Emergency Calls Taped on 9/11 is Heartbreaking and Infuriating

Release of Emergency Calls Taped on 9/11 is Heartbreaking and Infuriating

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In the fifth year after 9/11, some families of the victims of that horrific day have won a partial battle to allow us to learn important lessons from this terrible tragedy. This past Friday, audiotapes and transcripts of the exchanges between those trapped in the towers and 911 operators and fire department dispatchers were released. The compromise that has been reached is that the tapes now available to the press and public do not include the victims’ end of the exchanges. Nevertheless, even this one-sided version is deeply disturbing. Here’s two brief excerpts, courtesy of the New York Times:

“O.K. Hello. You say you’ve got 100 people where? . . . floor. You guys can’t get to the stairway. You can’t get — O.K. Is there a fire going on? There is no fire in where you are. Then it should be all right to open a window. . . . 100 people or 120 people? O.K. This is 911. . . . You had a plane hit the building and there has been another plane that hit the building. O.K.? Right at this point, open the window. If you can get a window open, open a window. You know, I’m not there. I can only go by . . . if there’s a fire going on anywhere and you open the window, it’s going to make the fire ignite more.
What is your emergency? O.K. one second, sir. One second. What floor are you on, sir? You’re on 105th floor. Wow. Any injuries? Just hold on one second, sir. Hold on. I hear the fire alarm. They’re coming. They’re on their way. They’re working on it. My God, this, don’t worry, God is there. God is there. God is, don’t worry about it. God is . . . Don’t worry. They’re on their way, sir. E.M.S. is there and . . . O.K. . . . E.M.S. Hold on. I’m going to connect you to E.M.S. Hold on one second, sir.”

I have to confess that just cutting and pasting these two entries from the innumerable ones that were recorded that day has driven me to tears.

The families who fought to get the tapes released felt that it was crucial in order to understand how unprepared we were for this type of devastation, despite the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Times reported:

On the morning of Sept. 11, many of the people trapped in the World Trade Center who called 911 were first questioned by police operators about their circumstances, and then were transferred to fire and ambulance dispatchers who, unable to see the police computers, asked for the same information.

The operators and dispatchers who fielded calls also were unable to tell people to flee the twin towers because no one told them that police and fire commanders had issued orders to evacuate the World Trade Center. Instead, following traditional firefighting protocol, they told callers to stay put — including those in the south tower who might have been able to escape before the building’s collapse.

The Times also reported that firefighters never heard the warnings relayed 21 minutes before the second tower collapsed, as their radio system was faulty that morning and was not linked to the police system. A Times analysis concluded: “Cut off from critical information, at least 121 firefighters, most in striking distance of safety, died when the north tower fell..”

Adding to the heartache is the controversy over the long-delayed building of a World Trade Center memorial. From what I understand, the current plan seems fundamentally unsound to some of the victim’s families, since the foundation of the building will apparently be deep underground. The families fear that we have not learned the lessons of 9/ll even after all that has happened.

[ADBLOCKHERE] I predict that eventually the full tapes will be released, including the victims’ side of the calls. I don’t know if I’d be able to listen to these recordings, but I firmly believe it would represent an important piece of documentation of this tragedy. I think the visceral nature of these messages has the power to hit home so deeply that the lessons may be taken more to heart. The release of even the edited tapes has come none to soon, since it seems to me that in this and other matters of emergency preparedness and national security, our country and our Administration has learned and heeded very little indeed.

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About Elvira Black

  • Earl

    Were you expecting some benign, acceptable product like a Northstar commerical?

    Good Gravy! People were hit with two fully fueled Jet Liners, were engulfed in smoke, ash, and heat, were incinerating! What the hell did you expect.

    Was your lust for blood satiated?

    Is this turning into a Katrina scenario?

    Is that where you are going with this?

    My cousin was on the 93rd floor during the 1st attack in 1993. He didn’t need a 2nd warning. He got another job and is alive today because of it.

    I don’t think anyone was ready for a tower to fall. Probably because before 9/11 tall buildings were never hit with 2 fully fueled jet passanger liners.

    That’s the reality. The tapes do nothing but stir the ashes of that awful day and the thousands who perished.

  • Earl:

    I have a bit to say about this and your comment–I’ll be back…

  • Earl

    You’ve a bit of explaining to do. I was the response to 9/11 and Katrina… I’ve seen all the shit that was unfit to print. I’ve seen, smelled, and tasted the stench of death, annilation, and destruction. Am I decompressing? Call it what you want. I’m ready, with first hand, eyewitness, no BS, non-PC FACTS.

  • Fred

    C’mon Earl, don’t you know?

    It’s all George Bush’s fault!

  • Earl (and Fred):

    Here’s the way I see it.

    This is still of course a very very sensitive topic for most people, especially anyone who had any direct involvement with the tragedy. As a matter of fact, when previews of a movie, Flight 93, were shown in NYC theaters the other day, audiences asked that the trailer be pulled.

    When I first heard the story of the release of the tapes, my gut reaction was that it would be sensationalized, and that rubbed me the wrong way as well. But as far as I can tell, that has not happened at all. It seems to be more of a local story–almost a non-story from the non-coverage I’ve seen, though I’ve been off my feed as far as the national news outlets for a week or so. Perhaps you can let me know if this piece is the first you’ve heard of this. Of course, the New York Times has extensive coverage, because they, along with some of the families of victims, called for the release of the tapes and won as far as the one-sided release.

    I believe that the families, however, have been sent unedited transcripts/tapes. Some are listening to them now; some have decided not to at least for the time being; some are saving them so that their children or grandchildren will have them.

    The tapes illustrate the tragic fact that the 9/11 system was not adequate for the job at hand. Police, firefighters, and ambulance dispatchers did not share the same computer system, and the delays and lack of communications led to a number of needless deaths–not that any were not needless, but I think you get my drift. That is a tragedy in and of itself, due to our inadequate response systems.

    Apparently, an overhaul of the 9/11 system has been in the works for a decade, and is at least three years away, though system improvements in response protocol have been implemented. I think these are things that the public should know. The mayor opposed the release of the tapes–which are doubtless an embarassment to him. But transparency in goverment is a good thing, so that people can put pressure on our representatives to not drag their feet on life and death issues such as this.

    The tapes are an important historical document, and we can learn from them. I don’t think anyone has the intention, at least at this point, of broadcasting them nonstop on the major news outlets. But they should be available to the public–not covered up so that we can deny our mistakes. Denial makes it more likely that a tragedy like this will happen again in an emergency situation. I don’t think complacency is the way to go, and unless government–including NYC government–knows that the people are aware, the process of 9/11 overhaul may just go on forever.

    What has Katrina and 9/11 shown us? How well are we prepared, even after these tragedies, to face any other attacks or disasters?

    Earl, are you an EMS worker? In any case, I’d be interested in any other facts/comments you’d care to make.

  • Earl

    Here’s what you have completely failed to observe:

    9/11 WAS equal to a WMD, with criminality.

    Katrina WAS ALSO equal to a WMD, without criminality.

    Being the scene of the event… is like comparing a photo of the Grand Canyon to actually being there. In other words, one has absolutely no appreciation, or cannot fathom the actual scale of destruction from the keyboard.

    Katrina wiped out any pre-existing operational communications systems and response systems.

    9/11 WTC had the same effect. All resources were immediately strained beyond working capacity and those remaining (VHF/UHF does have limitations in line of site) in and around the zone eventually were destroyed. Communications existed in and around the site, until the collapse. Reactive resources and processes were on scene, working through a massive problem, towards an unknown solution.

    That the towers collapsed was not immediately foreseen. The response efforts were targeted to removing personnel from the site, and fighting the fire. The scale of the event exponentially increased with the collapse. At that point it was every person for themselves and the devil take the hindmost. Ugly. Tapes don’t really reveal much at all, except to balloon the torment and suffering the victims were going through. Video shot on site at the time of the event reveal that the responders were following protocol while it was raining bodies out in the plaza.

    The towers were doomed from the 121 story and above? I can’t remember the details. I wasn’t there during only after. But I can attest that seeing images on TV is like the analogy of the Grande Canyon photo. The scale was immense.

    An atomic bomb would have had the same effect. Immediate chaos. You don’t prepare for chaos on that scale unless you are prepared for an atomic blast. Do we prepare for atomic blasts? No we don’t. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s futile to do so. Or perhaps we are prepared to “respond” to the catastrophe, because we have no control over the force of the explosion.

    Am I first responder? Not to WTC, but to Katrina yes. I was there after WTC, within 24 hours, I was wearing HAZMAT equipment, and will probably not suffer later in life because I was protected. And I will attest that everything I have read regarding Katrina on this blog site regarding the “failure” in response is total BS. The scale was/is unimaginable. Let me give you an example of a WMD without criminality. A 36 foot wall of water comes ashore, sweeps house off of there cement foundations and carries it all inland 7 miles and deposits the debris of thousands of homes on route 10. That’s power! Responding to that took weeks. Why? No infrastructure. Responders went in to rescue people FIRST with no operational communications to communicate. Walkie-Talkie’s don’t cut it. You need towers, repeaters, and base stations they were 7 miles inland piled up with mega tons of debris in bent twisted pieces.

    You can be prepared before an event, but if the infrastructure in ruptured how prepared are you? The procedures vary, but the general rule is… you get your response capability out of harms way, and hack your way back into the zone of destruction after the event… at the very least, you will still have the equipment to do so. Staging equipment and resources IN the area only wipes it out with the rest of the zone.

    There is no denial 9/11 occurred, the value of listening to screaming humans in a no-win situation does little to add to the body of knowledge concerning the event.

    Can you really prepare? You can equip, you can stage, you can even transfer equipment based on prior knowledge (i.e. you plot hurricane courses etc..) and you can respond with that staged equipment. That is preparation. That is giving the responders the tools needed to respond. But in events of the magnitude of WTC and Katrina you limited to only responding. Your job as a responder is to save first, recover later.

    I saw the electrical companies sent to NOLA. It took two weeks to chop through the debris and knockdowns. Cut a path, replace the wire, cut a path replace the wire. There wasn’t any electricity in NOLA, it had to be slowly painstakingly restructured piece by piece. Foot-by-foot, yard-by-yard, mile-by-mile, it was a hard road into the region.

    Armchair quarterbacks throughout the country were lambasting the efforts of people who were exhausting their human capacity to get power to the affected areas. In some cases 100+ miles of infrastructure had to be reconstructed, to turn on a light bulb let alone power a pump.

    I challenge anyone to respond to any disaster on the scale of 9/11 or Katrina, or Rita for that matter. If you lack appreciation of the amount of effort required during the response effort, you won’t soon forget it. Recovery is just as difficult and many times uglier. The armed services (Coast Guard, National Guard, Air Force) rescued more than 33,000 people in 2 weeks. That’s more than they normally do in 10 years. But they were limited to helicopters and small craft.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this. I almost blew it away twice. Talk to people who have been there. Talk to firefighters, electricians, steel workers. Talk to the workers in the area who exited in mass, on foot, covered with the dust of the collapse, walking for miles and miles to reach safety, to find home, to assure their people that they were alive. An exodus of a million. Add that to the human factor you are trying to validate in all this. Those people were suffering greatly. Many suffer from mental anguish to this day, are wrought with disorders from the experienced chaos, are victims still haunted and not buried. Katrina has her walking wounded too. That’s the tragic, complete story.

    When planes crash the black box is recovered, is paramount to the case. Not to hear the aircrew screaming “OH SHIT” but to pull flight data to establish the cause. I liken these tapes to that, but there is no flight data, or data that can be extrapolated to find the root cause of the disaster. We know what that is, we don’t really have to take a macabre listen to the doomed.

  • Joe Blankenship

    I would like to make two corrections.

    When Earl stated that:

    “9/11 WAS equal to a WMD, with criminality.

    Katrina WAS ALSO equal to a WMD, without criminality.”

    He confused the terminology. There is new terminology which has evolved… language is always evolving, terminology moreso…

    The correct terminology is WME (Weapons of Mass Effect)


    9/11 WAS equal to a WME, with criminality.

    Katrina WAS ALSO equal to a WME, without criminality.

    That should clarify.

  • Geo

    System overload. 3000+ 911 calls to how many operators, who have just been slugged in the stomach with an immediate large scale disaster?

    What is the press trying to uncover here? I think this may be media hype to sell product and keep the advertisers happy. How can you respond to the immediate suddeness of overwhelming 911 call? You can’t. The event was a blow; shocking, devestating, immediate… thousands in the building were calling, thousands on cell phones, thousands on the streets who were showered with debris… I can’t imagine what anyone is trying to prove with these tapes.

    All 911 communciations are recorded, and archived. If anything these tapes record the overwhelming need to employ 1 million 911 operators and put a battialion on firefighters on every corner. Which would be improbable and implausable… it’s not reality to do so.

    The fact that the communications were completely overwhelmed with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of calls testifies that the disaster ramped up immediately and swamped the resources employed to routinely conduct communications, ROUTINELY may be the key word. Techology will help a bit, but how do you respond to ten thousand phone calls at once. You don’t.

  • Earl:

    The extraordinary efforts and valor you exhibited for both these disasters is incredible, and I am in no way trying to minimize or criticize the brave folks at the scene or the enormity of the situation. But also brought up a point about preparing for a nuclear attack, and this is something that I have addressed in part in another piece–at least in terms of the fact that a biotech company has come up with a treatment for radiation sickness that is not being grabbed up to help save potential lives. I think that people should be aware of the fact that some tragedies–though not preventable–can be prepared for more comprehensively than we are doing now.

    Again, the tapes as they stand now at least–with the EMS workers’ voices–is not just fodder for prurient interest. Time and again on the tapes one will hear the EMS connecting the person with the fire department, who then has to go through the same series of questions because there was no connect between the two in terms of information shared. I’ll repeat this quote from the times because it is crucial here:

    “The operators and dispatchers who fielded calls also were unable to tell people to flee the twin towers because no one told them that police and fire commanders had issued orders to evacuate the World Trade Center. Instead, following traditional firefighting protocol, they told callers to stay put — including those in the south tower who might have been able to escape before the building’s collapse.”

    Thus, the tragedy of 9/11 was horrifically compounded by the fact that PREVENTABLE deaths of victims and firefighters occurred. To my mind, it is important that the public know that the 9/11 system desperately needs revamping asap.

    Public outcry over the Dubai port deal made a difference–public outcry over the lack of preparedness for disasters such as 9/11 is crucial as well.

    Of course those who responded were heroes–no one is disputing that. But our response systems have to be coordinated much more closely–this should be a top priority–and if the tapes help bring this to light, I think it is a good thing they were released, at the very least in the edited version that is now available. It may be painful, but how much more painful to have another catastrophe and have the same mishaps occur that might be prevented if we prepare more thoroughly beforehand?

  • Joe:

    Thanks–I wasn’t aware of that term, but in a (very) brief perusal, my understanding is that a WMD is a subset of a WME, and that WME’s might include, I think, such things as political or technological sabotage…?

  • Geo:

    See my comments to Earl above. Again, I don’t think the press has sensationalized or even covered this story much at all. For one thing, the public outcry would likely be too great.

    Of course the situation was overwhelming. My point is that the tapes illustrate the fact that the infrasructure of the flawed 9/11 system caused preventable deaths. People should have been instructed to leave if they could, not to stay put. That in itself is a terrible tragedy, is it not? Would it not be worth it to face these facts now in order to be more prepared in future? After all, some of the victims’ families have pushed to have the tapes released, and they have been through unbearable pain. My belief is that they want to try to make sure that at least their loved ones’ deaths will serve as an important lesson that disaster preparation should be a top priority.

  • Geo

    What stikes me about your comment regarding preventable deaths is this. Good comment by the way. Have you ever noticed that some people never leave the building during a fire drill? Have you ever noticed that some people will stick around the office no matter what.

    How many people sat in there offices wondering if they should leave or not? Wow, I have never thought of that. If 2 jets hit your building complex, and there are fires burning above you. Are you sticking around? Are you pondering whether to stay or leave?

    Wow. That is an amazing point of view and I’m not joking. Sorry folks, I would have been heading down the stair wells proceeding to the a place away from the general vicinity.

    Now the folks above the fire were in a totally different situation. Smoke, fire, collision damage, would have prevented. I would think that those within the shock zone, and those above were probably heading out, not matter what. But the indecision of those in the building below the strike zone, may have been tarrying and would have greatly lessened their chances of survival.

    If jets collide with your building, do you really have to call 911 to ascertain if you should stay or not? There is something wrong with that mindset. What causes people to think like that? Fear of joblessness, strict Theory Y bosses? Elvira, that is an incredible revelation.


  • Joe

    The WME is a DHS term I have used and have read on a number of occasions. WME takes in the total event. In the 9/11 event, the effect could be view as the strike, the effect, the collapse, shutting down airports for 3 days, the extra budget spent on security (at all levels), added stress to the population.

    One could really think out of the box… divorce rates due to time away from home, due to extra time spent going through security checks, delayed flights, etc… (that was a quick out of the box thought).

    Or, a computer virus outbreak… Network terrorism is very real. It could shut down trade, or freight movement (trains, seaports etc…), it could cause factories to go off line, or power disruptions….

    Weather. Katrina surely upset not only NOLA, but the petroleum resouces, refinaries a bunch of stuff. Reallocated resources to the area, such as electrical companies. An effect could be something as benign as… I couldn’t get any carpeting to redo my house last year because all the carpet available was being installed in reconstuction efforts in the Gulf states affected by Katrina. That is part of the total picture of WME or the Effect of…. you could dig pretty deep. The lack of construction materials affecting the new housing markets in many localities… depressing the area for a period of several quarters. If you really sit down and ponder and event could have ramifications that are not readily considered.

    Sorry for rambling but I really just started thinking about the scope of an effect like Katrina… which I may add was what a cat 2 or cat 3. Isabelle was a mere Cat 2 and there are places in Virginia that are still undergoing rehab, or remain dormant and are no longer captial assests because of the storm (cat 2!).

  • Geo:

    Many thanks–I’m assuming you weren’t being sarcastic? (lol)

    Thing is that traditional EMS protocol for a fire is to instruct the caller to stay put (at least initially), since I assume trying to evacuate without further instruction or intervention from the fire department could be more hazardous. I think the system has been “revamped” since then at least in terms of questioning the caller to further determine the circumstances, but the tech for communication between police and fire departments is still years away from what I’ve read in the Times.

    Reading transcripts or hearing tapes where callers had to repeat the same info–first to police operators, and then again to fire or ambulance dispatchers as precious time was wasted–illustrated the point in a more direct way than just stating that this happened, which is why I think the release of these transcripts is important. I think public awareness in general can be influential, and transparency can be an important component for change.

  • Joe:

    You brought up some excellent points. A few that resonated with me in the past (though I hadn’t heard the term WME til you presented it here) had to do firstly with a program I saw that addressed the vulnerability of our ports and how a shutdown of one of the major ones could lead to economic disaster for the whole country. Another example could be the cleanup of the WTC, and in fact there was a recent major brouhaha involving this issue as well. I currently live in downtown Manhattan and have little doubt that the air quality is compromised here.

    This is why I was so incensed with the Administration’s initial handling of the Dubai ports deal. The attitude seemed to be: don’t worry; we’ve investigated this matter ourselves and all is well. But the public’s response influenced our representatives so dramatically that the deal had to be put on hold. So although it is easy to feel hopeless and impotent about these issues, it does appear that public awareness and response–if dramatic enough–can indeed change the course of events that effect us all.

  • Elvira, I would save Earl’s comments (#6) to your own computer and print up a hard copy to keep and read occasionally.

    It is a stark reminder of how chaos spreads during a terrorist strike or what is the equivalent of a terrorist strike, a massive storm.

    No system is capable of “handling” a disaster. That is why they are disasters in the first place. They overcome what puerile efforts humans put in place to protect themselves.

    Five and a half years ago, I got the opportunity to see what war looked like when it came over the computer in e-mails.

    There were dozens of e-mails taking about how hard it was to get from one place to another, asking what the hell was going on, and a few recording tales of Arabs throwing rocks at windshields and the like.

    I tried to save a whole bunch of them from the old one lung computer I had in 2000 to my laptop in 2001, but only one transferred – about a woman describing soldiers lying in the ground firing at the Arab village of Bittar from ouside of her house in Beitar Illit.

  • Sorry Ruvy–I didn’t realize your comment was here til now. The way I see it, any disaster will likely result in loss of life. However, at least in some instances if preparedness is optimized, not quite so many people will have to die, and to me that is significant.

    In the piece I wrote awhile ago about an antidote for radiation sickness that is nevertheless not being bought and produced, the government representative said the same thing you did– you can’t prepare for a disaster–that’s why it’s a disaster. Their suggestion was to crawl to a hospital after a nuclear blast. We can do better than that, at least in terms of the radiation drug that could be available. Perhaps in that scenario it won’t matter much–I don’t know. But I think our country has to be better prepared definsively as well as offensively.

    I know you’ve seen a lot of firsthand chaos and destruction as well, so I don’t discount what you say. I guess I just want to maintain a little hope that there’s something that can be done even in dire circumstances.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira, I very seriously suggest you read the first two chapters of the book Warday. In it you will find clear recommendations for survival in the event of a terrorist nuclear attack.

    If the borough you live in is hit, and you are still alive, stay in the building you are in and prepare for loss of gas and water pressure, electricity, etc. etc. Stay away from windows, and especially from winds. If you are able to hold out in your own apartment for ten days or two weeks, then you can venture out with a backpack of food with intent of leaving New York. If the damage is serious enough, the chemical pollution in the area will be enough to force an evacuation of NYC.

    Moadím l’SimHá, Shavua Tov

  • Ruvy:

    Warday by Whiley Streiber? I remember reading at least the first chapter or two many years ago and it was indeed chilling. I’ll have to take another look at it.

    One definite plus about moving from Manhattan to the Bronx is that I seriously doubt the Bronx would be hit directly if we were nuked. I appreciate the recommendations you’ve listed. With all my talk of preparedness, I haven’t even considered how I myself would prepare for a disaster–and I guess I should. Go figure.

  • Elvira, as an individual it’s simply not possible to prepare for a crisis on that scale and totally pointless to “prepare”. Have you seen the movie “Blast From The Past”? This too could be your fate if you sign up for the paranoid ward…

  • Christopher:

    I didn’t see the movie, but I think I know what you mean. I think most people, myself included, don’t really “believe” “it” will happen (if ony to preserve one’s sanity and go on living day to day) so I don’t think about it to the point of obsession. But just for example; I’m glad I was safe and sound at BG’s in the Bronx on 9/11 and during the blackout we had a few summers ago–the subways weren’t running either time and during the blackout the hotels were packed to capacity. For the latter, BG had a flashlight, candles, and a radio at the ready, which was an immense help. In any case, having a few more canned goods in the cupboard doesn’t hurt just in case, right? –lol.

  • Basic preparation gives you something to do other than panic if you get caught in a disaster’s area of effect. It may not help you much if you are right in the center of the disaster. But every disaster area has a much larger fringe area of effect than its central area, even a nuclear blast. For every square mile of people whose problems are over because the nuke vaporized them instantly, (or the hurricane killed them, or whatever) there could be hundreds of square miles of people who need to figure out what to do next.

    Building fortified underground bunkers is overkill. Keeping a cupboard full of enough canned food and bottled water to see your household through a couple of weeks without access to the supermarket is a bare minimum. Flashlights, candles, wind-up radios, and a small easily portable first aid kit are also in the realm of sensible good ideas.

    If you’re the type to keep a gun on hand because so many other people will be unprepared, panic, and start looting, at the very least take firearms safety classes on a regular basis so you won’t accidentally shoot yourself or someone you love.

  • Good advice and observations, Victor.

  • Victor and Ruvy:

    Many thanks to you both for your info and advice. When I get my new place, I intend on stocking up on some canned goods and bottled water (on sale, of course)…

  • Local news programs will play recordings of 911 calls. I believe they are considered public records in the same way a police blotter is a public record.

  • Sister Ray:

    Good point–except in this specific case, the tapes were not released at all til recently. From the NY Times:

    “The calls were released… in response to a Freedom of Information request made by The New York Times on Jan. 25, 2002, for public records concerning the events of Sept. 11. The city refused to release most of them on the grounds that they were needed to prosecute a man accused of complicity in the attacks, or contained opinions that were not subject to disclosure, or were so intensely personal that their release would be an invasion of privacy. The Times sued in state court, and nine family members of people killed in the attacks joined the case.”

  • Going back into the New York Times archives, I found another compelling passage that clarifies why I feel strongly that the 9/11 tapes had to be released:

    “The calls released today bring to life the fatal frustration and confusion experienced by one unidentified man in the complex’s south tower, who called at 9:08 a.m., shortly after the second plane struck the building. For the next 11 minutes, as his call was bounced from police operators to fire dispatchers and back again, the 911 system vindicated its reputation as a rickety, dangerous contraption, one that the administration of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to overhaul with little success, and one that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hopes to improve by spending close to $1 billion.

    The voice of the man, who was calling from the offices of Keefe Bruyette on the 88th floor of that building, was removed from the recording by the city. From the operator’s responses, it appears that he wanted to leave.

    “You cannot — you have to wait until somebody comes there,” she tells the man.

    The police operator urged him to put wet towels or rags under the door, and said she would connect him to the Fire Department.

    As she tried to transfer his call, the phone rang and rang — 15 times, before the police operator gave up and tried a fire department dispatch office in another borough. Eventually, a dispatcher picked up, and he asked the man to repeat the same information that he had provided moments earlier to the police operator. (The police and fire departments had separate computer dispatching systems that were unable to share basic information like the location of an emergency.)

    After that, the fire dispatcher hung up, and the man on the 88th floor apparently persisted in asking the police operator — who had stayed on the line — about leaving.

    “But I can’t tell you to do that, sir,” the operator said, who then decided to transfer his call back to the Fire Department. “Let me connect you again. O.K.? Because I really do not want to tell you to do that. I can’t tell you to move.”

    A fire dispatcher picked up and asked — for the third time in the call — for the location of the man on the 88th floor. The dispatcher’s instructions were relayed by the police operator.

    “O.K.,” she said. “I need you to stay in the office. Don’t go into the hallway. They’re coming upstairs. They are coming. They’re trying to get upstairs to you.”

    Like many other operators that morning, she was invoking advice from a policy known as “defend in place” — meaning that only people just at or above a fire should move, an approach that had long been enshrined in skyscrapers in New York and elsewhere.

    At Keefe Bruyette, 67 people died, many of whom had gathered in conference rooms and offices on the 88th and 89th floors. Some tried to reach the roof, a futile trek that the 9/11 Commission said might have been avoided if the city’s 911 operators had known that the police had ruled out helicopter rescues — another piece of information that had not been shared with them — and that an evacuation order had been issued.”

    Mayor Bloomberg did not want the tapes released, presumably because it would be too senstationaistic, but it is pretty plain to me that he would not want them heard or read because it makes the ciy’s response system during 9/11 look very bad–which it is. Public pressure may hasten the overhaul which is so desperately needed.