September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Testimony (As Written) Joe M. Allbaugh Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency Before the Committee On Environment And Public Works, U.S. Senate; October 16, 2001

Testimony (As Written)
Joe M. Allbaugh
Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Before the Committee On Environment And Public Works,
U.S. Senate
October 16, 2001


Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Committee members. I am Joe Allbaugh, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I thank you for this opportunity to discuss FEMA's operations in New York and at the Pentagon following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I was attending the National Emergency Management Association Conference in Montana with State Emergency Management Directors from across the country when I first learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. I immediately returned to Washington, D.C. to lead our response.

As we now all sadly know, the twin towers at the World Trade Center complex collapsed after being targeted by two hijacked commercial airliners, and four other buildings partially collapsed. Several nearby buildings also suffered extensive collateral damage. After the World Trade Center attack, another hijacked plane was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth hijacked plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Our Nation's response to these terrorist attacks was swift and is unprecedented in America's history.

Response and Recovery Activities

Responding to the horrific events of September 11, the President immediately signed a major disaster declaration for 5 counties in New York. The disaster declaration was amended on September 27 and again on October 2, making all counties in the State of New York eligible for some form of Federal disaster assistance in the wake of the terrorist attack.

The President also promptly declared a Federal emergency in Virginia under subsection 501(b) of the Stafford Act, and a short time later declared a major disaster in Virginia to trigger a broader range of Stafford Act response authorities. In addition, the President declared an emergency for all 21 counties in New Jersey. These declarations make available Federal programs that provide public assistance and assistance for families and individuals. Normally the Federal government provides 75% of the disaster response costs with the remaining 25% the responsibility of non-Federal entities; however, in this disaster FEMA is reimbursing the States and affected local governments for 100% of the eligible costs for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and public infrastructure rebuilding costs in response to the terrorist attacks.

Minutes after the first hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center, I activated a full Emergency Support Team at FEMA's National Interagency Emergency Operations Center in Washington, D.C. Federal officials immediately began arriving at the Center to coordinate the nationwide response and recovery effort. Some 1,800 Federal workers are deployed to New York to support the disaster response, about 800 from FEMA and almost 1,000 from other Federal departments and agencies.

At the same time I activated FEMA's 10 Regional Operations Centers and a backup Emergency Support Team at our Mt. Weather facility in Berryville, Virginia. Both Emergency Support Teams operated around the clock, working 12-hour shifts. The FEMA Headquarters Emergency Support Team continues to operate so that we are prepared to immediately respond to any additional events, should this become necessary. Additional teams have been operating at FEMA Headquarters and in the field since September 11 supporting the disaster response, using the Federal Response Plan to coordinate all Federal activities and to strengthen State and local capabilities.

Shortly after the incident, the lead for disaster response and recovery was transferred to Disaster Field Offices (DFOS) in New York City and in Arlington, Virginia. We deployed four Mobile Emergency Response Systems (MERS) to New York and one to Virginia to provide communications and other support to the DFOs and other facilities to enhance communications capabilities. One of these mobile units provided essential communications capabilities for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Office in New York so that they could immediately begin the investigative work essential for bringing the terrorists to justice and preventing similar acts in the future. At the same time, we dispatched liaisons to the FBI's Joint Operations Centers in New York City and Arlington and to the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center in Washington, D.C. A FEMA National Emergency Response Team, our field response organization, was immediately alerted and remains on call if needed to respond to any other events.

Our top priorities in helping New York and Virginia throughout this entire disaster response effort have been to:

  • provide urban search and rescue support;

  • assist in life saving operations;

  • meet individual and public assistance needs;

  • implement human services and victims assistance programs; and assist in debris removal.

  • To support response activities in New York, mobilization centers were established at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York. Additional operating centers were established in the two States. The Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C., served as a mobilization center in support of the Pentagon operation. These centers supported the staging and movement of personnel and needed supplies and equipment into the affected areas.

    FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces have played a critical role in our response. In fact, the attacks thrust the Task Forces into the spotlight. The world has been focused on their important life-saving work and they have received a surge of gratitude and support from all over. The Task Forces are made up of between 62 and 72 emergency responders who conduct search and rescue operations, provide emergency medical care for victims, handle search and rescue dogs, and evaluate and stabilize damaged structures. Twenty-six of our 28 US&R Task Forces have been employed in responding to the Pentagon and New York disasters -- 5 at the Pentagon and 20 in New York, and one Task Force is assigned as a Rapid Intervention Team to respond to other events in New York City. At this time, 22 of the 28 Task Forces are available to respond to additional emergencies.

    The New York City Office of Emergency Management's US&R Task Force was among the first responders at the World Trade Center. The New York Force is a valued part of FEMA's 28 Task Forces that make up the National US&R Response System. Its Task Force leader, Chief Raymond Downey, was one of the first responders on the scene. Chief Downey was also the leader of the National US&R Task Force Leaders and was a board member of FEMA's US&R Advisory Committee. He and his Task Force members are among the missing and dead of FEMA's US&R system.

    Our Federal partners have played extremely important roles in the response efforts. The Department of Health and Human Services and Public Health Service have played an important role in the health and medical response. 167 persons are assigned to Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and a Medical Support Team to support the response in New York and remain in the City. Similarly, 160 persons are assigned to Disaster Mortuary Teams and remain in the City. Thirty-three Centers for Disease Control epidemiologists are assigned to track illness trends. A Veterinary Medical Assistance Team is deployed to treat the rescue dogs; a burn team consisting of 9 nurses is operating at New York's Presbyterian Hospital; and a pharmaceutical stockpile was deployed to New York City, and all except the stockpile remain there.

    Debris management is, of course, another major area of concern with building collapses of this magnitude. Approximately 1.4 million + tons of debris are involved and some 300,000 tons of mixed debris have been removed to the sorting and disposal site at the Staten Island landfill. New York City has tremendous capability in this area and is managing the debris removal effort with technical support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dredging of the Hudson River has been accomplished to facilitate removal of debris by barges.

    A great deal of our recovery focus is on helping individuals impacted by the disaster and we have set up a Disaster Assistance Service Center to help in this regard. FEMA Community Relations teams are going door to door in Lower Manhattan to distribute information and answer questions on the type of support FEMA is providing such as temporary housing assistance, and grants for emergency home repair, clean up, unemployment assistance, and crisis counseling. The New York State Department of Labor estimates that 285,000 workers have been displaced or have become unemployed by the disaster.

    We are also closely coordinating with the Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the Department of Health and Human Service's Center for Mental Health Services, and the American Red Cross to provide a myriad of services. FEMA approved the State of New York Crisis Counseling Immediate Services Program and it is providing crisis counseling. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters is helping us with a long-term strategy for managing donations.

    There are several unique aspects of our responses to the terrorist attacks that relate to the provision of assistance to individuals. First of all, most disasters do not involve criminal acts, so FEMA does not routinely need to coordinate with OVC in the course of providing disaster assistance; however, in the current disaster, we are coordinating with OVC because they are providing assistance to victims of the terrorist attacks and their families and we want to make sure that there is no duplication of assistance. Second, the outpouring of donations that non-governmental organizations have received in the aftermath of the attacks is unprecedented. Finally, because these catastrophes involved airplane crashes, we are coordinating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) with respect to the provision of assistance from United and American Airlines to the families of the victims. In response to the unique aspects of this situation, we have aggressively coordinated with OVC, the NTSB, and the non-governmental recipients of donated funds to put in place as coordinated and efficient a response structure as possible. Since the Stafford Act prohibits FEMA from duplicating disaster assistance, we are being very careful to coordinate with all appropriate organizations.

    In another area, because the recovery of our infrastructure is so critical to restoring economic viability, we have established an Infrastructure Recovery Workgroup in New York to coordinate the stabilization and ultimate reconstruction of infrastructure and to incorporate reasonable enhancements and mitigation measures into the reconstruction process throughout the affected area.

    I would like to acknowledge the tremendous support we have received from some of our other partners I haven't mentioned thus far:

  • transportation and movement support provided by the Department of Transportation;

  • telecommunications assistance from the National Communications System;

  • logistical and managerial support provided by incident management teams from the U.S. Firefighting Service;

  • mass care, feeding, and mental health support from the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations;

  • resource support from the General Services Administration;

  • environmental monitoring and sampling support from the Environmental Protection Agency;

  • food stamp program support from the Department of Agriculture

  • assistance in resolving power restoration problems from the Department of Energy; and

  • invaluable support from the various branches of the Department of Defense.

  • There has also been an incredible outpouring of offers of assistance from the international community. Citizens of more than 80 nations were killed in the WTC attack, and 59 nations and the European Union have offered humanitarian assistance. Canada, Brazil, France, Mexico, Norway, and Sweden provided assistance, primarily in the form of small rescue teams and technical emergency management expertise.

    There is no doubt that the disaster response and recovery will be a long-term process, but the President has said that we will provide whatever assistance is needed to get the job done. I can assure you that FEMA will be there as long as needed. We will continue to work closely with New York City and the States of New York, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to complete this mission. I am grateful that Congress appropriated $ 40 billion dollars to the President's Emergency Response Fund for overall emergency assistance to fashion a creative plan to recover from these events.

    I am especially moved and deeply humbled by the heroic and unselfish efforts of emergency responders from the local police and fire departments who placed themselves in harm's way to help others in their time of need. I am forever grateful to them for their ultimate sacrifice and bravery. Many of these police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians tragically lost their own lives while doing what they do best, putting everything aside to rush to the scene to save lives, rescue the trapped and injured, and be the first responders. Our hearts are hurting along with those individuals who have lost their loved ones. More than ever, we must reach out and do whatever we can to console them and help them through this difficult and sad period.

    The level of cooperation and professionalism exhibited by all of the Federal, State and local personnel and emergency responders has been outstanding, and the American people can be proud of the work they are doing to help the Nation recover. I am pleased by the dedication, abilities, and sheer will of the FEMA employees, the rescue workers, and officials from all levels of government, representatives of private businesses, volunteers, and others who are working together to help in the aftermath of this tragedy. The support we have received from the public has been tremendous. It won't be easy, but I know that we will prevail in the recovery effort because of the spirit and dedication of all of these people.

    The Role of the Office of National Preparedness

    I would also like to give you a brief status report on the Office of National Preparedness (ONP). The President asked me on May 8, 2001 to establish the Office of National Preparedness, to lead the management of the consequences of the use of the weapon of mass destruction in the United States, if such use should occur despite the efforts of our Government to prevent it. A crucial part of any such consequence management effort, and a part for which FEMA is uniquely suited, is to work closely with State, tribal and local governments to ensure their planning training, and equipment needs are met. Under the Federal Response Plan, FEMA's role in response, recovery, and incident management is also crucial in responding to the consequences of terrorist incidents. The principal goal of ONP is to develop a coordinated, local, tribal, State and Federal effort to deal with the consequences of mass destruction in the U.S.

    On June 5th, I announced the restructuring of FEMA, which included creating ONP, to be headed by an Executive Director who reports directly to me. The ONP will have FEMA employees, detailees from the relevant Federal departments and agencies and, as appropriate, State, tribal and local representatives. On July 2, we activated ONP at FEMA headquarters.

    As you know, the President has announced the creation of an Office of Homeland Security with Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania serving as its director. This Office will coordinate the efforts of the nation, seeking to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist attacks and mitigating their effects should they occur. I am pleased to report that the Office of National Preparedness is ready to assist Governor Ridge as he crafts and seeks to implement an overall strategy for the nation.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, and its Office of National Preparedness, will play a key role in working with other Federal agencies, and State, tribal and local personnel, to deal with the consequences of uses of weapons of mass destruction.


    Mr. Chairman, you convened this hearing to discuss FEMA's operations in response to these two terrorist attacks. I have visited both sites numerous times and seen first-hand the shocking degree of destruction. I hope I have been successful in imparting some of what I have seen. FEMA is responsible for ensuring that the national emergency management system is adequate to respond to the consequences of disasters of all types, including acts of terrorism. The Federal family has focused its efforts on providing assistance to those affected by these terrible events and has done so swiftly and successfully, in part, because of the strong partnerships fostered through years of preparedness planning, and responding to other types of disasters.

    When I visit the disaster sites, I am amazed and gratified by the cooperation and the coordination of all of the workers, whether Federal, State, local or volunteers who, shoulder-to-shoulder, are working long and hard hours. Each time I visit, I also remember that I am entering a crime scene, as well as a memorial sight. Workers there are working diligently, but also with a great deal of respect. These workers, these heroes, continue to put themselves at risk trying to help their brothers and sisters. It is tough duty, and these are unique and special individuals who are called to this work. I am concerned about the victims, the brave firefighters, and emergency and police personnel who have worked so hard under extremely difficult conditions. We owe all of them an immense amount of gratitude and thanks.

    President Bush, Governor Pataki, and Mayor Guliani have provided New York and the Nation with inspiring leadership at a time when it was so desperately needed. The strength and spirit of the City and of New Yorkers have allowed them to bounce back in fine fashion. While recovery efforts continue at Ground Zero, life is returning to a semblance of normalcy. Students whose schools were near the World Trade Center have returned to class, but in different buildings blocks away. Major League baseball and football have returned to New York. The New York Stock Exchange opened less than a week after the terrorist attack. Though our hearts are broken, the process of healing has started. This Country is unique in its resilience and incredible spirit and we have witnessed this during the past few weeks.

    We appreciate your leadership during this difficult time. The cooperation and support provided by the Congress, as evidenced by the recently enacted supplemental appropriation and by your Committee's willingness to review statutory authorities to assist in our efforts, is welcome and necessary. I thank the Committee members for the opportunity to describe the activities of all the responders in New York City and at the Pentagon.

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer any questions that you and the committee members have.

    Updated: October 17, 2001

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