Testimony of Sally Regenhard
member of the Family Steering Committee of the 9-11 Commission
and Chairperson of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign
to the House Committee on Government Reform
August 3, 2004
Chairman Davis, Ranking Member Waxman, and members of the
House Committee on Government Reform: My name is Sally Regenhard.
I am the founder and Chairperson of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign (SSC).
I created this organization in memory of my son, Christian Regenhard,
a probationary firefighter who was lost at the World Trade Center on
September 11th, 2001 along with his entire Engine Company 279 and
remains missing to this day. The goals of the SSC include advocating
for a thorough investigation into the disaster at the World Trade Center
as well as making high-rise buildings safer in the future through improved
codes, better design practices, and enhanced emergency response procedures
Today, I would like to discuss the findings and recommendations found
within the 9/11 Commission Report. Specifically, I would like to address
Chapter Nine of the report, which deals with the events at the World Trade
Center. In addition, I would like to discuss the related recommendations
found in Chapter 12.
Overall, I feel that the 9/11 Commissioners and Staff have
provided us with a great amount of detail and analysis about the
emergency response that terrible day. Their extensive text and notes
give us new insights into what went right and what went terribly wrong
that day. They are to be thanked and congratulated for their superlative
and dedicated work. They must also be thanked for the respect and honor
demonstrated to the victims and their families all along this arduous process.
However, I do feel that some of the conclusions drawn in Chapter Nine are
not based upon actual substantiated facts, but rather upon unsupportable
One particular aspect of the report that is quite troubling to me and
my organization is the discussion relating to the evacuation orders of
the North Tower on pages 322-323 of the report and the corresponding
endnote numbers 209. It is alleged that many of the firefighters in
the North Tower heard the message to evacuate but chose to remain in
the building prior to its collapse. To the contrary, this issue of
firefighter deaths is directly tied to the lack of radio communication
capability. This has been well documented in the post 9/11 McKinsey
Report, the NY Times, and numerous other publications and firefighter
comments. Yet this theory that firefighters chose to die, has also
been advanced by some public officials, undoubtedly hoping to deflect
criticism for the inadequacy of the FDNY radios and for the absence
of a functioning Incident Command Structure in NYC on 9/11 which
undoubtedly could have saved so many firefighter’s lives, including
my own beautiful son, Christian.
I take specific exception to the section in the Commission Report which
states: “In view of these considerations, we conclude that the technical
failure of the FDNY radios, while a contributing factor was not the primary
cause of the many firefighter fatalities in the North Tower.” I and my
technical advisors have reviewed the substantiating documentation and
have found it lacking. In essence, the report makes very weak arguments
such as “it is very possible that at least some of these firefighters
did hear the evacuation order” as well as the most curious statement
that firefighters were “likely to have known to evacuate.” Such
statements are not conclusive. Stating that the firefighters refused
to evacuate the building (for whatever reason) and disobeyed such an
important order simply cannot be confirmed and is a disservice to their
memory. These people are dead – we cannot ask them these questions.
The questionable findings of Chapter 9 are based on interviews and
transcripts which the families and the public have no access to.
In addition, many surviving firefighters and ranking officers referred
to the Commission by the Skyscraper Safety Campaign have stated that
no evacuation order was ever heard by them.
While this may seem to be a trivial matter to some, it is exceedingly
important to the families of the firefighters who perished that day –
including the mother of FF Sean Patrick Tallon who is among the many
family members present today. We feel that the lack of radio communication
capability was the primary reason that so many firefighters died. The
fact is that their equipment betrayed them when they needed it the most.
This fact is well documented in a new book, co authored by a NYC Fire
Department Battalion Chief entitled: “Radio Silence, FDNY” and provides
a history of how these failed radios got into the hands of NYC’s Bravest
on 9/11. Even today, nearly three years later, the FDNY still does not
have an adequately robust radio system that gives them the capability to
talk in all high-rise buildings, subways, and tunnels in the City of New
York. This is not just a firefighter issue – this is a public safety issue
of grave concern for all.
I call on Congress to hold hearings into the flawed 9-1-1 Emergency
Communication System and FD radios of 9/11 as well as the failure of
the City of New York to put useful radios into the hands of today’s
firefighters. You are the last hope to provide an unbiased, critical
review of this significant issue.
Another issue that I would like to discuss pertains to the report’s
analysis of the Incident Command System currently utilized by the City
of New York. Just days prior to the 9/11 Commission hearings this past
May in New York, the city announced the creation of a new Citywide
Incident Management System, (CIMS) intended to meet an impending
federal requirement. Unfortunately, CIMS is a fundamentally flawed
command system in many respects, including its illogical split of
Haz Mat responses between the NYPD and FDNY, even in the case of
a terrorist attack, and the lack of a single clearly designated
incident commander in many emergency responses.
As a New Yorker living in the nation’s number one terrorist target,
I also have grave concerns about the amount of money flowing to New
York City for anti-terrorism preparedness. We should be receiving a
much larger piece of the pie, eliminating the pork barrel spending of
the past. I agree with the 9/11 Commission in its desire to see that a
risk and vulnerability assessment form the baseline for spending.
I would further suggest that the likelihood of an attack play the
predominant role in any risk/vulnerability assessment process.
Regarding Commission recommendations: A review of Chapter 12 reveals
that only three recommendations deal with all of the complex issues
that surfaced in New York City and continue to haunt us to this very
day. These three recommendations can be characterized as mom and
pple pie; they are too broad and are lacking the specificity to deal
with the complex issues at hand. I would have hoped for many more
specific recommendations dealing with each of the communications,
incident command, and private-sector emergency preparedness issues
raised in this report.
For example, the 9/11 Commission should have strongly critiqued
New York City’s incident command system rather than just stating that
“emergency response agencies nationwide should adopt the Incident
Command System…” With all due respect to the Commission, most cities
and states have already done this. Why not analyze New York City’s
current system and detail why it is flawed rather than just state that
it “falls short of an optimal response plan?” Clearly, more work is
needed in this area.
In closing, you may have noticed that I am wearing some medals today.
My son earned these medals for obeying orders as a Recon Marine Sergeant,
during his five years of distinguished service in the U.S.M.C. before
joining the Fire Department. When a Marine receives an order, he follows
it! If told by a superior officer to evacuate the World Trade Center on
9/11, he and others would have done so. If only their radio would have worked.
All of those predominantly young firefighters lost at the WTC on 9/11 (with rare
exception) would have chosen life – if only given the chance.
Unfortunately, they and the rest of the 343 cannot testify before you today.
I wear these medals to defend their honor and in doing so, I once again
reiterate the need for Congressional Hearings into the Communications and
Radio failures of 9/11. I acknowledge the role of the First Responders as
part of the first casualties in this war on terrorism. Please, do not
overlook the important problems still facing them today. The FDNY and
the rest of our nation’s emergency personnel are America’s first lines
of defense in this country. If they are not safe and well equipped,
how can they protect the public in case of another terrorist attack?
Please help them and honor those who are gone, by giving your attention
to this most important matter.
Thank you for allowing me to testify. I look forward to your answering
any questions that you may have.