John Jay and FEMA
Address Urban Hazards
By Jerry Capeci
John Jay College
Several hundred scientists, law enforcement officials, engineers,
authors, academics, and other experts gathered at John Jay
College of Criminal Justice on January 22-24 to discuss and
analyze the dangers New York City and other urban areas face
from the growing threats of terrorism and other catastrophic
|John Jay President Gerald Lynch greeting
attendees of the Urban Hazards conference.
Co-sponsored by Region II of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, the Urban Hazards Forum brought internationally recognized
experts to John Jay in conjunction with FEMA's efforts to establish
effective training and educational partnerships with leading
institutions in the field of emergency management. The conference,
planned a year ago and scheduled last summer, took on increased
significance following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The plenary sessions and freewheeling panel discussions among
response professionals, researchers, and policymakers were followed
by frank, lively Q&A's. More than 350 persons attended the conference,
which was dedicated to the victims of the World Trade Center
attack. Three experts selected at a September 10 planning committee
meeting to take part in a panel discussion of the 1993 WTC bombingRay
Downey of the NYFD, Doug Karpiloff of the Port Authority, and
John O'Neill, a retired FBI Agent and current WTC Chief of Securitydied
the following day.
On the first day of the conference, after greetings by College
President Gerald W. Lynch, Deputy Fire Chief Charles Blaich
mesmerized attendees with a riveting account of the attack on
the twin towers and the response and rescue effort in which
343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority police officers, and 23
New York City cops perished. Blaich, a John Jay graduate who
was a Fire Department Ground Zero commander, used his personal
recollections along with diagrams, CNN videotape and still photos
projected onto a huge screen to recreate the chaos and heroism
of the day.
| Deputy Chief
Charles Blaich of the NYFD offering his narrative of September
All told, more than 25,000 workers and others who were at the
Trade Center when the first plane hit survived the attack. They
ran, walked or were carried out of the complex by rescue workers
before the second tower crashed 100 minutes later. Nearly 6,000
were treated at 73 city hospitals, about 500 admitted with serious
injuries. About 1,850 persons were treated in emergency rooms
in New Jersey and New York suburbs.
Blaich, whose vivid narrative was amplified by Port Authority
Police Chief Joseph Morris and Richard Rotanz of the City's
Office of Emergency Management, stressed a need for better communications
between agencies that respond to all catastrophic emergencies.
"We lost control of who was going into the buildings,”
he said, noting that "rescuers inside the towers failed
to receive information from a police helicopter flying above
that might have saved lives.” Rotanz is also a John Jay graduate.
"Here we have their airborne antenna flying around without
the capacity of transmitting to people on the upper floors to
get out. The officers at the incident command center were unaware
of the severity of the condition of the buildings outside,"
said Blaich. "It was all well-intentioned, and I am proud
of the people who went in. But there has to be a big revisiting
of the whole event. It all goes back to communications."
"In a way," added Morris, "thank God the buildings
went down when they did because 500 more people were ready to
go into the buildings."
Conference co-chair Charles Jennings, director of John Jay's
Protection Management Program and a fire service policy expert,
said many suggested improvements in response strategies to terrorism
were also applicable to natural and man-made disasters, including
earthquakes, floods, explosions, and train wrecks.
"This is probably the first dialogue in which terrorism
and emergency management people got together in the wake of
the September 11 tragedy," said Jennings."There are
no solutions yet. We still have a lot of work to do, but the
things we do to improve buildings, for example, will not only
aid our response efforts to terrorism but to accidents and natural
disasters like high-rise fires and earthquakes."
Distinguished faculty members from John Jay and other CUNY colleges
played important roles in the three-day conference, serving
as plenary session speakers, panelists and moderators of panels
in three tracks: Catastrophic Events, Mitigation, and Terrorism.
Geographer Victor Goldsmith of Hunter College and John Jay fire
scientist Glenn Corbett moderated a joint Catastrophic Events/Mitigation
panel that included hurricane specialist Nicholas K. Coch of
Queens College and Jin Jong Choi, a John Jay alumnus who is
Chief of Search and Rescue in South Korea. Goldsmith and Corbett
also led panel discussions on Water Emergencies, Urban Rail
Emergencies, Engineering and Infrastructure, and Man-Made Disasters
in the Built Environment.
Professors Robert J. Louden, George Andreopoulos, and Charles
Strozier of John Jay and Michael Flynn of York College talked
about the psychology of suicide bombers, the disturbing abundance
of plutonium1,130 tonsin the former Soviet Union,
the dangers of anthrax and other deadly poisons during panel
discussions on Nuclear Terror in Urban Areas, The Mind of a
Terrorist, Hostage Taking, and Chemical and Biological Terrorism.
Historian Strozier, also director of John Jay's Center on Violence
and Human Survival, served as a featured speaker on terrorism
at the opening and closing plenary sessions. In his closing
remarks, he noted that terror threats to world safety are great,
but said that practitioners and academics, through research,
education and continued interaction, can find solutions by working
togetheradding hopefully, "in dark times, the eyes
begin to see."