Survivor Stories & Writings

9/11 Commission Has Ignored Survivors, The Real First-responders

May 28, 2004
Peter Miller
65th Floor, One World Trade Center
World Trade Center Survivors’ Network

As far as we can tell the 9/11 Commission has yet to listen to at least one important group -- the survivors of the attacks. The World Trade Center Survivors’ Network was formed by a group of people who were in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. We are gravely concerned about the hearings last week in New York City, and the role in which the Commission cast survivors. The hearings ignored those who were in the buildings and survived, other than using survivors' accounts to criticize uniformed forces and building systems.

The Commission should realize that survivors like us were the first responders. We overcame the challenges of an unprecedented attack. It was civilians who rushed to the aid of injured or panicked colleagues. It was civilians who calmed each other and prevented panic from spreading. It was civilians who carried disabled colleagues to lower floors, or out of the complex. And some of us were fortunate enough to survive ourselves.

To come to New York, the scene of the attacks, and start finger pointing and lashing out at our emergency services makes no sense to us. Our city and emergency services were the last line of defense. So many things went wrong that whether or not the radios worked is only the tip of the iceberg. The systems that were supposed to be in place to guard us, failed. Intelligence failed, airline security failed, immigration services failed, FAA airspace vigilance failed. The 9/11 Commission has been content to hear our highest officials say "nothing could have done to prevent this." Isn't it about time that we as a country took inventory of what went wrong, looked at our mistakes and moved forward to prevent further attacks? Instead what we have is a Commission that comes to New York and puts on a show feeding off the pain and outrage of the families who lost so many loved ones.

Our hearts go out to the families of people who were lost; we do not deny them their need to grieve. However, we truly understand the heroism of the uniformed forces and public officials that day. When you attack and blame the emergency services and former officials, you are attacking us because the realities of all emergencies are that the victims must respond first. If no one calls 911, then no uniformed services show up. If no victim calms the nervous colleagues, then panic spreads. If civilians don’t instantly organize and guide others to the exits, people are lost. All of these things happened on 9/11, but once those fuel-heavy planes got through, and flew into the towers, there was little more that anyone could do--everyone's fate was sealed and events unfolded.

As survivors, we know what it was to make life and death decisions that day. When people attack the decisions of the uniformed forces, we know precisely how unwarranted those attacks are. We were there. The heroism of Port Authority and other civilian staff contributed to the fact that almost everyone below the impact floors survived. Those who are angry at the brave officials who met the attacks head on have, sadly, lost sight of the fact that these attacks were unprecedented in nature and magnitude. It is simply wrong to seek scapegoats in a quest for individuals to fire and in a misplaced effort to impose accountability. Further, it is distracting us from the real enemy and root cause, which is terrorism. New York remains as much a target as ever. The Pentagon has dubbed the city "the forward edge of the battle area." Are we prepared?

Everyone wants to improve the security of our buildings and the effectiveness of our emergency response and this can only occur in an atmosphere of respect and trust. Without these qualities, those on the defensive will withdraw and those on the attack will misstep and miss the point. There was a failure to fully expose the facts, and it is little wonder, given the hostile and punitive atmosphere in and around the proceedings.

The Commission's report needs to be objective, thorough, unbiased, and most of all an aid for improvements. Survivors can help that happen, and we should be contributing to the Commission’s work. We ask for a rational, non-blaming approach to this vital endeavor. We ask the Commission to maintain a level-headed discussion and focus on ways to improve building systems and emergency response in the future.

Sincerely,

Peter Miller
65th Floor, One World Trade Center
World Trade Center Survivors’ Network

 

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