Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The 9/11 tapes revealed--sort of

Parallel Lines
Originally uploaded by Corporal Tunnel.
Firstly, a caveat: the info and "facts" contained therein are off the top of my head, so any inaccuracies are purely my fault--but I don't think I've botched anything. Just trying to be a responsible writer/journalist.

Five years after 9/11, some of the families of the victims of that horrific day have won a partial battle to have the audiotapes and transcripts of the exchanges between those trapped in the towers and emergency personnel released. The compromise that has been reached is that the tapes and transcripts now available to the press and pubic do not include the victim's 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 devestation, despite the bombing of the WTC a number of years earlier. Adding to the heartache is the controversy over the long-delayed building of a World Trade Center memorial. The current plan seems structurally unsound to some of the victim's families, since the foundation of the building will be deep underground. The families fear that we have not learned the lessons of 9/ll even after all that has happened.

I predict that eventually the full tapes will be released, including the victim's side of the calls. I don't know if I'd be able to listen to these recordings, but I feel it might indeed represent an important piece of documentation of this tragedy. It seems to me that in this and other matters of national security, our Administration has learned and heeded very little indeed.


At 9:55 PM, Blogger Joel said...


At 3:59 PM, Blogger digibrill said...

Horrible idea I think. I think that the families would only have to relive the tragedy by releasing these. The idea that this would be some kind of closure is wrong.

At 2:56 AM, Blogger Walker said...

Tough one.
On the one side I would want to hear my loved ones voice especially if its the last thing they said. It's rare that you get that.
On the other hand what about the person who was talking to the 911 operator just at the moment when the towers collapsed.
Do I want to hear the last screams of a loved one, I think not.
The fact that we have become a comercial society and industry would do anything for our money and our cutiosity would get the better of us has created such a morbid market.
There has to be some respect for the dead and their families should have no say in the matter.
There are greedy people everywhere.
It should be like a will, private.
Calls to 911 are private and if their conversation inniciates a response it should be viewd as part of the victims conversation and all should not be released.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I think that it is important to have access to these tapes.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger dan said...

Because of my background and studies I was able to hear some of those uncensored tapes.

Once was enough. Even for me.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger jane said...

Last night they played the preview to United 93 & I must say, I felt as though I was going to have an anxiety attack.
The families wanted both the release of the movie & the tapes & I think they are what matters. The rest of us have choices, we can see or listen to them, or not. As for the families, or those like you who live in N.Y., I can't imagine the difficulty you must have.
I do believe it's good for you to write about your feelings though. Glad you're doing okay.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger jessie said...

I have heard mixed emotions about this. some of the people i know whom lost someone in the tragedy think it's a good idea because alot of people are disconnected from the real horror and would make them more aware and understanding, others feel it is inapropriate to flash it all over the media as it would cause more uneeded pain for those who lost someone.
me personally, i am a have to know kinda person, and i feel the whole truth in such matters are important because all the laws and things that out government passes in response to this tragedy affects us and we will only know if they're trying to protect us or not by being as informed as possible.

At 1:10 AM, Blogger jane said...

Stopped by to say HI. You're on my mind & I hope you're doing okay.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Thanks everyone for your comments here. I should add that my post here was "bare bones" and that I reposted the piece to Blogcritics with more detail. Part of what was missing here was some info from the New York Times, which I'll add here just for the record, which might explain my position better.

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.."

Reading the transcripts or hearing the tapes which showed just how much precious time was wasted as calls were rerouted and information had to be repeated by callers is something that is brought home much more dramatically than just reading a statement of this fact. I think the public has a right to know, and to react and respond when appropriate so that our leaders and representatives will be more accountable, and hopefully such preventable deaths will not occur in future.

An overhaul of the 9/11 system to allow for communication between police and fire, if I understand correctly, been going on for a decade and is at least two years away. Perhaps public pressure can help assure that this revamping occurs as quicly as possible, rather than dragging on indefinitely.

At 6:24 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thanks so much--I'm still a bit under the weather, but I'm trying to work through it. I appreciate your stopping by!

At 1:07 AM, Blogger jane said...

Hi Elvira,
I'm thinking about you & hope that you post real soon.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Justine said...

fucking hell.

I don't think people should listen to that stuff. It should be destoyed. There's nothing to gain from it. You can't prepare for something like that.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


As per my long comment above, I think that there is something that can be learned from it and that we can prepare a lot more than we did. The 911 system needs an overhaul so that police and fire and emergency operators can all be on the same computer system. Lives of victims and firefighters were needlessly lost because of the inadequate response system, and it would be an immense tragedy to have that happen again. At least some of the families feel the same way, and they are the ones who were affected the most. Preventable loss of life is something that must be addressed, no matter how painful it may be.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thanks so much--I'm starting to feel better and will most likely put up a new post soon.

At 5:50 AM, Blogger Justine said...

I just feel that if it were my voice that had been recorded that day, I wouldn't want for people who'd known me to hear it.

OK - the emergency response can be improved. But for me, I don't need to have my heart torn to cede the point.

And there's something else. There are people in this world who revel in hearing that kind of thing. You know that poor young man who had his head hacked off a couple of years ago in Iraq? So many people tried to watch the video on line that the server crashed. I think its offerring the experiences of the people who died in the buildings to the voyeurs. To the vultures.

Anyway Elvira, I'm sure there's much about this we agree on.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous brink craven said...

we cannot prevent people from being killed. as long as there are people who desire to kill other people they will find a way. we cannot protect ourselves--to think we can is an illusion. like the drugwar, it is a loosing battle. Im not saying its not worth fixing those things that we know we can. But to think that we can prevent something like this from happening again is delusionary. Useless and preventable deaths are a part of our reality--our human condition. Beleiving that there is a way to prevent them, is just, well.. wrong.

I think our efforts and resources would be better spent on diplomacy--that might have some positive effect. instead of scrambling to dig bunkers why not try (and I mean REALLY try) to lessen the probability that they will be needed in the first place? the direction we are going in now (trying to "head off" attackers) is pointless and futile. there will always be failures in the defensive and emergency systems at some point(s). In my opinion, to put so much emphasis on trying to "prepare" ourselves for something like this happening again, just gives us false hope and continues to feed our fears.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger !ce said...

I think it's sad that there is a movie coming out. It's sold as a tribute, but it's purely commercialism. The stupid Republicans don't care. The Democrats, Greens, and Socialists should ban together and overthrow them. You know, someday in 200 years when that's actually possible.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Justine, Brink, Ice;

Thanks for your comments. I understand where your coming from, but I still feel strongly that the tapes needed to be released. The following quote from the NY Times may help clarify why:

"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.

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous brink craven said...

I read the quote you posted before E, and although I agree that the system should be fixed (and that we shouldnt have to hear the tapes in order for the be motivated to do this) I feel the need to reiterate my point, even if nobody cares to hear it--haha..

Even if we prove that the 911 sysyem is out of whack and that people died unessesarily because of it, (which is obviously true, as you pointed out) it still wont change the fact that A) people will still find ways to kill eachother even if we find every loophole in the emergency system and fix them B ) if we fix those problems a hundred more will more than likely reveal themselves, possibly having an even more disasterous effect on the lives of the people in question (and it might be me, who knows?) .

Im not being a fatalist here. I do beleive that there are things that should and can be done, but to put so much emphasis on this like its actually going to do much to stop potential deaths from occuring just doesnt seem realistic to me. Fixing the 911 system would be like putting a band aid on a tumor. (what exactly IS a preventable death anyway?) EVERY single murder on earth could be said to be preventable.

anyway, that said, I can understand why people would want the tapes revealed and why the city governmant might wish to cover up the fact that the 911 system is so sad. It certainly is embarassing for them, and it may open them up to lawsuits (if it hasnt already?) in any case I stand by my reasoning--even if its fixed, it aint gonna do much to keep this stuff from happening again. it just smacks of a too little, too late kinda thing.

thanks for writing such an interesting post E.

also, I agree with Ice about the movie--that shit is unbelievable-where are the profits going ? To exploit such an event for material gain is discusting. If indeed they are not donating the proceeds to 911 causes (which I highly suspect they are not)

At 3:59 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Here's the way I see it:

At least some of the folks who had relatives who died fought to have these tapes released, and I feel that should be taken into consideration--I respect their wishes in doing so. I don't think they view the death of their loved ones as "collateral damage," so to speak, and if this senseless tragedy is to have any "meaning" at all, I think they feel that if it can be used to show how the system can and must be improved, that is of value to them.

As far as the movie, some of the families wanted it as well. The Flight 93 passengers bravely fought the highjackers, and again I can understand why the families would want to have a tribute to their bravery. I haven't looked at the website (I'm sure there is one up for the film) and so don't know if anything will be donated. But the fact that the families are behind it seems significant and positive to me.

At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea to allow everyone to expierence the death and destruction of the wtc and victims and lets not forget that those who are responsible are still at large america don't forget our fallen brothers and sisters, don't try to hide their demise, and put a price on the war on terror, you wanna know what the price of terror is, it is on those tapes. I know we can't bring them back , but those responsible will pay, my god have mercy on the terrorist souls, I will not.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Many thanks for your comment. I too think denial is the wrong way to go, because we need to learn from what has happened. Interesting also that Oliver Stone's World Trade Center has been receiving some positive reviews, and perhaps more initial acceptance than the previously released Flight 93.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Buy flowers said...

Speaking of 9/11 I have seen “World Trade Center”, the movie with Cage. I have great respect for those moments and for the memory of so many, but this movie is a stain on our cheeks.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Buy flowers:

Thanks for the comment, and perusing the "archives"--lol. I haven't seen World Trade Center, so I can't really make much of a comment on it one way or another, but in general I think it may be better to address the events and issues of that horrible day rather than just try to bury the memory, as it seems some would rather do.

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