As the foremost fire safety organization in America, NFPA has a big role to play in assisting national emergency planning post-September 11. One way we could help immediately was to train facility managers in high-rises and other large buildings to plan for evacuation. When we asked federal agencies for their financial support, the response was enthusiastic, but as the weeks passed, we found ourselves deeper and deeper in the black hole of federal bureaucracy. Finally, NFPA decided to conduct the training programs on our own. To date, we've trained more than 1,000 people, and 20 more programs are scheduled. With federal support, we could've done a lot more, but we felt it was wrong to wait while the agencies sorted out whose budget would support the program.
A bigger problem is the failure to appropriate money quickly to study all aspects of the World Trade Center evacuation and collapse. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been designated the lead federal agency, investigating the buildings' construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that combined to cause the World Trade Center disaster. This is the right choice because NIST has the technical expertise and reputation necessary to bring together all the groups needed to make sure we learn all we can from the tragedy. As I write this, however, NIST's funding to begin its work is still being debated in Congress, and the delay could result in the loss of valuable data, such as the first-hand accounts of those in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. Interviewing thousands of people will take a lot of money, but the knowledge that can be derived is invaluable. With the passage of time, though, that job, which could help save lives in the event of another terrorist attack, is going to get a lot harder.
The sense of resolve on the part of the public and our political leaders since September 11 has inspired us all. But it must be matched by a sense of national urgency that we're moving quickly to ensure we've done everything possible to minimize the loss of life should we ever face a day like that again. As we approach the first anniversary of the tragedy, that might be the best way to pay tribute to all those who lost their lives on September 11.
James M. Shannon