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Lessons Learned from the World Trade Center Disaster Jim Holliman, M.D., F.A.C.E.P. Professor of Military and Emergency Medicine Uniformed Services University Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine George Washington University Bethesda, Maryland, USA


Memorial plaque for the WTC victims presented by Iran University at the First Middle Eastern Conference on Emergency Medicine, October 2, 2001


Lecture Objectives Review the EMS and EM response to the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center (WTC) disaster Identify what went wrong and what went right with the responses Utilize the lessons learned in planning for mitigation of future events (which hopefully will not come to pass) 


General Lessons Learned from This Disaster The U.S. public is not safe from major outside terrorist organizations There is broad international sympathy and support for the victims of this type of disaster Domestic volunteer help and cooperation can be huge in response 


WTC soon after construction


Sequence of Events in the WTC Disaster 8:42 a.m. : AA Flight 11 hits North Tower  9:00 a.m. : UA Flight 175 hits South Tower 10:05 a.m. : South Tower collapses 10:28 a.m. : North Tower collapses  5:25 p.m. : WTC Building # 7 (47 stories) collapses 11:45 p.m. : Last injured non-rescuer victim presents at St. Vincent's Hospital Noon the next day : last civilian freed from rubble and transferred to Bellevue Hospital 


South Tower strike


North Tower burning


Collapse of South Tower


South Tower collapse


Just after the South Tower collapse


North Tower burning after South Tower collapse


Ground Zero after collapse of both towers


Aerial view of lower Manhattan


Lesson 1 : Emergency Personnel are Brave but Therefore are at Risk for Death or Injury The WTC collapse was really unprecedented & unpredictable (remember WTC was supposed to "withstand a hit from a Boeing 707") Therefore the hundreds of firefighters & police who entered the towers to attempt rescue or firefighting cannot be faulted for their entry Lesson learned : Stage vehicles & secondary rescue teams several hundred meters back from a bombed building 


Lesson 2 : Need for Backup Communications and Command Center New York City's (NYC) main EMS Communications Command Center was in the WTC & was destroyed by the collapse There was not a fully operational backup center Lesson learned : Have at least two geographically separate fully capable backup communication command centers 


Lesson 3 : Need for Better Individual Unit Communication Links Prior to the disaster, Fire & EMS did not have direct field radio links to each other or to local hospital E.D.'s The available radios did not work consistently well within the WTC towers Lesson learned : Multichannel local unit radio system should link Fire, EMS, and local hospital E.D.'s Special intercom systems or lower frequency radios may be needed for use inside very large buildings, and should be tested ahead of time 


Lesson 4 : Telephone Systems Fail Early in a Disaster This lesson has been learned in most prior disasters also Both landline & cell phone systems stop functioning early (due to call overload and/or transmission tower & line disruption) Lesson (re)learned : Don't rely on local phone system ; Backup radio communications systems needed ; Public needs to be reminded to cease phone use early. 


Lesson 5 : Computer Communications May Still Function Despite Phone System Malfunction E-mail communications were able to be maintained to NYC E.D.'s throughout the disaster even when the phone lines did not function (probably due to automatic delayed electronic routing of e-mail messages) ď ŽLesson learned : Prearranged e-mail links should be set up between Fire & EMS command centers & E.D.'s ; personnel should be assigned to staff & monitor these communication computers ď Ž


Lesson 6 : Better Monitoring & Recording of Specific Personnel Responding into a Danger Zone is Needed There was no early perimeter control of the scene, so identity of many of the responding fire & police units in the WTC was not initially known ď ŽThere was also only limited identification & tracking of later volunteers at the site ď ŽLesson learned : Establish perimeter control with police early. Identity of all units & personnel entering the danger zone needs to be tracked & recorded by communications center. ď Ž


Lesson 7 : Special Rescue Arrangements Are Needed for Top Floors of High Buildings Almost no one on a floor above the level hit by the planes survived Could they have been rescued from the roof ? 

Helicopter response limited by smoke & the FAA grounding all non-military aircraft

Lesson learned : Roof rescue techniques need preplanning.

One company has proposed use of quick-pull parachutes for those on high level floors


Smoke and dust plume preventing aerial evacuation from the North Tower


Lesson 8 : After a Building Collapse, Most Secondary Injuries Are Due to Dust and Smoke Many early response personnel were not equipped with respirators Many secondary injuries were eye irritation and corneal abrasions Lesson learned : Early provision of respirators & eye protection for responding personnel is important 

Bring extra stocks of these to scene for nonrescue personnel also


Smoke and dust plume after the collapse


Lesson 9 : Hospital E.D. Pre-planning and Conducting Disaster Drills Pays Off The response by New York University Downtown Hospital is widely regarded as a model for other hospitals to emulate

Closest hospital to WTC (4 blocks away) 170 beds, Level 2 trauma center 6 operating rooms 29,000 average annual E.D. visits prior to the disaster In 1993 saw 250 patients from the WTC bombing


Lesson 9 Continued NYU Downtown Hospital E.D. fully activated prepracticed disaster plan and Hospital Incident Command within 10 minutes of the plane strike Extra central supplies brought to E.D. E.D. attending on duty (Dr. A. Dajer) coordinated the staff response All present E.D. patients rapidly transferred to inpatient units 


Lesson 9 Continued NYU Downtown Hospital staff mobilized under Incident Commander : 8 surgeons and 5 surgery residents 14 internists and 30 IM residents 4 Ob/Gyn attendings and 16 residents Patient flow handling : Rapid triage by E.D. attending at door, then assignment of one resident to take patient to specific resuscitation room (where surgical staff were waiting) or to other "appropriated" inpatient areas (cafeteria, clinics, etc.) where the patient was fully assesssed & then treated by the medical staff 


Lesson 9 Continued By 10:00 a.m., 200 patients had been seen in the NYU Downtown E.D. , and 3 sent to O.R. In the second hour, there was another huge "surge" of patients with crush and trampling injuries, & inhalation and eye injuries from the dust from the Towers' collapse By 11:00 a.m. 350 patients had been processed through the E.D. Over 500 additional non-injured people were also sheltered by the hospital from the thick dust cloud outside 


Lesson 9 Continued Summary of first day caseload for NYU Downtown Hospital : 21 Hospital admissions 18 transfers by ambulance to other hospitals 12 I.C.U. admissions including 4 R/O MI's 4 operating room cases 3 deaths 117 rescuers treated from 11:00 a.m. to midnight


Lesson 9 Continued The response by St. Vincent's Hospital (closest Level One Trauma Center to WTC, about 1.5 miles away) is also widely regarded as exemplary Hospital disaster plan quickly activated by E.D. chief Elective surgery cancelled Extra treatment beds set up (20 in gym, 12 in recovery room, 8 in endoscopy, 8 in dialysis, 25 in psychiatry) Physicians & nurses called in from hospital pool Portable X-ray machines mobilized Head & burn trauma patients quickly transferred by ambulance to other hospitals


Lesson 9 Continued Summary of first day case experience for St. Vincent's :

350 patients by midnight 6 patients with ISS > 15 Was outside the cordoned off area and did not have the difficulties of electric power and steam outage that affected NYU Downtown Hospital


Lesson 9 Continued

Bellevue Hospital also had quick, effective large scale disaster response

E.D. command posts set up E.D. cleared of patients Hospital staff mobilized One doctor assigned to each incoming patient Saw 120 patients from WTC –22 admissions, 10 O.R. cases, 5 patients with ISS > 15 (plus 3 transferred from NYU Downtown Hosp.)


Lesson 10 : E.D. Caseload From a Disaster Has an Initial Surge, Then Tapers Off NYC Dept. of Health Rapid Assessment Team collected data on all E.D. cases seen at 5 Manhattan hospitals

From 8 a.m. Sept. 11 to 8 a.m. Sept. 13 1688 total E.D. patients in this time 1103 (65 %) were WTC victims 10 % of cases had missing data


Time presentations of the WTC casualties


Lesson 10 Continued

1103 WTC disaster victims :

Median age 39 years 66 % male 26 % arrived by EMS 29 % were rescue workers 16 % were hospitalized 0.4 % (4) died in E.D. 0.3 % (3) died in O.R.


Causes of Death in the WTC Victims Who Died in the E.D. or O.R. at NYU Downtown and St. Vincent’s 2 cases of prehospital blunt trauma cardiac arrest One case with severe burns One non-trauma cardiac arrest One firefighter with blunt chest and abdomen injuries died in O.R. One head-injured patient died in O.R. One blunt trauma patient died in O.R. 


Time Distribution of WTC Victim E.D. Patient Presentations 50 % presented within 4 hours 71 % presented within 12 hours 49 % had inhalation injuries 26 % had ocular injuries 19 % (27 cases) of admitted cases had burns 2 % of rescue personnel injured had burns 


Number and Types of Injuries in the WTC E.D. Patients

Hospitalized (n = 139) INJURY Inhalation Ocular Laceration Sprain Contusion Fracture Burn Closed Head Crush

Number 52 10 25 17 29 27 27 8 6

% 37 7 18 12 21 19 19 6 4

Seen & Released (n = 606) Number 300 185 80 85 66 19 12 6 2

% 50 31 13 14 11 3 2 1 0.3


Comparison of Injuries in Rescue Workers and Non-rescue Survivors Rescue Workers (n = 279) INJURY Inhalation Ocular Sprain Laceration Contusion Fracture Burn Closed Head Crush

Number 118 108 44 23 44 13 6 3 3

% 42 39 16 8 16 5 2 1 1

Non-rescuers (n = 511) Number 268 96 64 87 54 33 33 11 5

% 52 19 13 17 11 6 6 2 1


Comparison of Time of Presentation of WTC E.D. Cases to Prior Disasters 

Usual prior presentation pattern : First wave of survivors with minor injuries (self extricated, not via EMS) Second wave of more severely injured (most via EMS) Subsequent waves of survivors rescued during extrication

WTC pattern : One immediate large wave Second wave the next day mostly rescuers


Actually one other patient remained hospitalized longer at NYU Downtown Hospital (patient had severe degloving injury)


Lesson 11 : Better Communication & Use of Incident Command System Needed for Field Medical Units Several ad-hoc "field triage" hospitals were set up, one near WTC, one on Staten Island, & one in Liberty Park

ď Ž

ď ¸These were organized separately & did not have direct communications with each other or the nearby E.D.'s

Lesson learned : Field "triage hospitals" should have unified communications & be under medical incident commander

ď Ž


Lesson 12 : Medical Personnel Will Readily Volunteer in a Disaster Each NYC hospital quickly mobilized more of its own physicians & nurses than it needed Hundreds more volunteered on standby from elsewhere in New York state Pennsylvania had over 300 emergency physicians volunteer & be ready to deploy in 6 hours (arranged by e-mail) Over 2000 other Pennsylvania physicians & medical personnel also volunteered for standby 


Lesson 13 : Volunteers Should Wait to be Called In by Local Authorities Volunteers arriving at a disaster scene on their own (unrequested) can : Become victims themselves Overcrowd the scene Be a supply & resource burden The Pennsylvania & other mobilized volunteers contacted the NYC E.D.'s directly to be notified if response needed ; further communication with local police & EMS would also be needed before arrival 


Lesson 14 : Disaster Declaration Needs to Account for Volunteers' Medical Licenses The only out of state personnel officially mobilized were Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT's) who have federally validated licensing & malpractice coverage ď ŽTo use other out of state medical personnel, government authorities must declare or provide "Good Samaritan" legal protection for volunteers (or temporary ad hoc licenses) ď Ž


Lesson 15 : Even Modern Buildings Cannot Resist Fire from Jet FuelLaden Large Aircraft WTC collapse apparently mainly due to extreme heat from jet fuel fire weakening steel beam structural supports ď ŽIf future buildings are to be plane "strike proof", they will have to be able to resist this type of fire ď Ž


Lesson 16 : Post Incident Stress Debriefing Is Important This was realized & planned for early for field rescuers, hospital staff, & the public Two Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Command Centers were set up 

60 CISM certified chaplains were utilized

Federal CISM team also sent


Lessons Learned From the WTC Disaster : Summary Hospital and city multiservice disaster planning and drill practice are important Backup command centers & communication links are needed Volunteerism can help salvage a big disaster The enormity of this tragedy will hopefully stimulate multinational efforts to prevent this sort of event from ever happening again 


Winning design for the reconstructed World Trade Center


July 2003


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