Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the public face of New York City on Sept. 11, warned Wednesday against assigning blame for mistakes made in the city's emergency response to the attacks.
But he was never in danger of getting any blame himself from the commission probing the attacks, which treated him with kid gloves. Relatives of the dead were less deferential.
"We have to channel our anger to doing all we can to prevent and ameliorate any further attack," Giuliani told the commission during its second day of hearings in New York City.
"Our enemy is not each other, but the terror who attacked us, murdered our loved ones and continue to offer a threat to our security, safety and survival."
The Sept. 11 commission, which has grilled current and former national security advisers, CIA officials, FBI administrators and secretaries of State and Defense, repeatedly lauded the former mayor and rarely challenged him. Chairman Thomas Kean even asked Giuliani if he was worried about the safety of other cities that did not have mayors as great as Giuliani.
Some members of the audience were less admiring. Furious about radio problems that may have cost firefighters' lives on Sept. 11, some yelled: "Talk about the radios, talk about the radios."
Giuliani said the outburst was "very understandable." One heckler pleaded, "Put just one of us on that panel, please." Another audience member said she had lost her brother, and thought the mayor did a great job.
The former mayor said Sept. 11, like all disasters, involved "acts of great heroism; many, many creative things that were done and terrible mistakes that were made."
A preliminary report issued Wednesday by the commission praised the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon, in contrast to their criticism of New York City's reaction.
"While no emergency response is flawless, the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon was mainly a success," the report found, because of coordinated planning ahead of time involving a range of agencies.
In New York, the commission staff reported, there was some cooperation among emergency agencies at high levels, but there was also a "lack of communication and coordination among responding agencies."
A key problem in New York was that the city's emergency management center, which Giuliani had ordered located at the World Trade Center, had to be evacuated. It "would have served as a focal point for information-sharing."
Giuliani, however, said there was "a superb command structure" that morning, and that the rescue was largely a success. He had initially heard that 12,000 to 15,000 had been killed — a calculation made by the Port Authority and other agencies based "on the number of people who conceivably could have gotten out."
The final death count was less than 3,000.
"The reason that you have that difference … is the way in which a combination of the rescue workers and the civilians themselves" coordinated the rescue, although he acknowledged it was "not flawless."
Some of those flaws were delineated in the commission's preliminary report.
There were "command systems designed to work independently, not together." Off-duty firefighters rushed to the scene, fire companies came to the scene overloaded with personnel, more units were dispatched than ordered and firefighters at the scene were "not accounted for comprehensively and coordinated."
In addition, "the 911 system was not ready to cope with a major disaster," the report found. The decision to evacuate the towers was not passed on to people calling 911 from inside the Trade Center. "If it had been, individuals could have been told to evacuate."
On the 911 system, Giuliani said, "Should it have been larger, should it have been anticipated? Yes, but it wasn't."
The mayor described his actions on the morning of the attacks. After learning about the crash at breakfast, he concluded it was a deliberate act.
Walking around the World Trade Center site, Giuliani said, people yelled to "'keep looking up, keep looking up,' because things were falling down around us."
"I saw a man – it wasn't debris, it was a man – hurling himself out of the 104th floor," he said. "I said to the police commissioner, 'We're in uncharted territory.'"
Waiting to enter the hearing, Frank Crifasi recalled evacuating the post office where he worked across the street from the twin towers. His sister, worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower – above where the plane hit.
"So like, she didn't have a chance," Crifasi said.
Crifasi thought some of the questions commissioners asked the day before were "stupid." For instance, some commissioners pressed current and former New York City emergency officials about why they do not have a procedure for rescuing people – like Lucy Crifasi – trapped above flames in high-rise buildings.
"There's nothing much they can do about that," Crifasi said.
Rosealeen Tallon, whose brother Sean was a 26-year-old probationary firefighter who died on Sept. 11, held a sign outside assailing former fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen for failing to improve fire department radios during his tenure. The commission staff, in preliminary reporting, blamed some of the deaths on widespread problems in radio communication
"It's not just the rescuers' lives that were put in jeopardy because of faulty equipment and poor control, it's civilians' lives, too," Tallon said, adding that she holds Von Essen "personally responsible" for her brother's death.
In his testimony, Giuliani said radio problems were largely due to the lack of available technology to solve them. Radios that overcome the problems encountered on Sept. 11, he said, do not exist.
Tallon said she was not optimistic that the commission's report would be worthwhile unless issues like the radio purchases are explored.
Asked if he thought the commission's work was fruitful, Crifasi said, "It remains to be seen if the things these people recommend, if they follow up on that."
By Jarrett Murphy