Thursday, May 17, 2012



At 0846 hours, seconds after the first plane hit the World Trade Center (WTC) and the transmission for multiple alarms, the incident command system (ICS) began to take shape. Over the next 13 minutes, command would pass from me, Battalion 1; to then-Deputy Chief Peter Hayden, Division 1; to Citywide Tour Commander Joseph Callan; and then to Chief of Department Peter Ganci. Each of these chiefs knew that as the incident expanded, more and more elements of the ICS would need to be put into effect to maintain command and control. It was not known at the time that the ICS command structure would eventually take up three floors of the fire station on Duane Street.
On arrival of Division 1 at 0854 hours, Deputy Chief Hayden became the incident commander (IC); I became the planning chief. My job was to assist the IC in gathering information and coordinating resources. I collected information relative to trapped people from fire officers and building personnel. I also made sure that someone was assigned to update the status of the units being assigned.
In a high-rise fire, the planning chief works closely with the incident commander in developing and planning strategy. Shortly after 0900, Assistant Chief Callan took command of operations in the North Tower. As the rescue plan was starting to be put into effect in the North Tower, a second plane crashed into the South Tower, at 0903 hourrs. Assistant Chief Donald Burns took command of operations in the South Tower and then-Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, Battalion 7, accompanied him. While this was being done, Chief Ganci was developing his command team out on West Street.
Firefighters were evacuating tens of thousands of people, and the largest rescue plan in New York City history was being undertaken to save thousands of people trapped above the fire. Then, the unthinkable occurred: The towers collapsed—first, the South Tower; then, a half hour later, the North Tower. The command structure was destroyed, and 343 fire officers and firefighters were killed. The clear summer morning and sounds of fire truck sirens gave way to a blackened dust-filled sky and a ghostly silence.
After the initial shock, we began to reestablish the command structure. Four sectors were naturally created by geographic boundaries. Chief officers individually started to take command of those sectors. Within one hour, one overall command post was established at Chambers and West streets. By the third day, a separate incident command post was created at the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10; this post was then moved to the old fire museum on Duane Street, next to the quarters of Engine 7 and Ladder 1. The fire department used all the tools of ICS for the first time from this location.
The incident command post took up three floors in the fire station. The apparatus floor was transformed into a large conference room. Each day, two interagency meetings were held, with as many as 100 people attending. Offices of the incident commander and the safety officer were on the second floor. The remainder of the floor was divided into a Planning Section, a Logistics Section, an EMS Branch, the Office of Emergency Management, and various law enforcement liaisons.


The Planning Section of the U.S. Forestry Service's incident management teams called in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) IMTs took up the third floor. An IMT consisted of 27 people who have been trained in and are familiar with each component of the ICS. Team members have worked at major incidents (mainly wildland fires) and are specialists in planning and logistics.
The WTC Planning Section had a core staff of fire officers at the command post, consisting of the planning chief, his executive officer, the resource unit leader, the situation leader, the Global Positioning System (GPS) leader (documentation), and the technical specialist. This Planning Section was responsible for collecting, evaluating, and displaying information. Planning also maintained the status of resources, prepared the Incident Action Plan (IAP), and ensured documentation of the incident.
IMTs brought in through FEMA greatly assisted the work of the Planning Section at the command post. Over a two-month period, the fire department asked for and received the services of three IMTs—the Southwest IMT, the Pacific Northwest IMT, and the Alaskan IMT. Each team stayed from 14 to 30 days.
In addition, the planning section had Geographic Information System (GIS) resources operating from Fire Headquarters at Metrotech (FDNY Phoenix Unit) and the Javits Center (Forestry Service's GIS); we also had GIS personnel at Pier 92 (OEM's interagency command post).
Planning was no longer a one-person job but a staffed unit providing vital information to the IC and the firefighters and rescue workers in the field. The IMTs brought in followed the same ICS planning structure, consisting of Planning Section chief(s), resource unit, situation unit, documentation unit, technical unit, and demobilization unit. The major difference was that the IMTs had three to four times as many people assigned to the planning section as FDNY. However, both the FDNY planning section and the IMTs proved to be needed to effectively command and control the incident.


The Planning Section is composed of a number of defined positions and responsibilities. Every company officer should have an understanding of each of these positions, and every chief officer should be able to run the ICS planning section. All fire officers are bound by responsibility and duty to know and to be able to work within the ICS by the time the next catastrophic urban disaster occurs.
Below is a brief overview of the duties and responsibilities exercised by those who held positions in the WTC Planning Section:
The Planning Section chief oversaw the planning section; ensured that the required work products met expectations; gathered, analyzed, and processed the information needed to effectively control and command the incident; served on the incident commander's general staff; assigned personnel to ICS organizational positions as appropriate; assisted the IC and operations chief in preparing the Incident Action Plan (IAP) and supervised its preparation; ensured timely completion of planning products; conducted planning meetings; determined the need for specialized resources to support the incident; chaired meetings with various disciplines to come up with new informational products; and assisted in planning functional areas when necessary.
The Resource chief prepared the daily IAP and ensured the proper staffing levels, including proper staffing from Fire Headquarters.
Below is a partial sample of an IAP. Every IAP includes extensive special safety messages and logistics that are not included because of security reasons.

Operational Period: 0700 hours 10-12-01 through 0700 hours 10-16-01

Overall Incident Objectives

  1. Provide for the health, safety, and welfare of all personnel working in and around the incident.
  2. Provide for recovery and identification of as many remains as possible and their return to next of kin.
  3. Coordinate with all involved agencies to support the operational needs of the incident.
  4. Document all critical items and significant events.

Each sector had Planning and Documentation personnel assigned to support incident objectives. Specifically, they were tasked to update maps, track resources, record prior and current significant events, collect and record database requirements, and provide liaison services at the request of the sector chief. In addition, at the direction of the IC, other personnel provided incident command system functional training to selected FDNY personnel.
Operational Facilities and Locations

  • Incident Command Post—100 Duane Street,
  • Operations Center—10/10 Station (Liberty and Greenwich),
  • West Command—Vesey and West (West and Liberty sectors), and
  • East Command—Liberty and Church (Church and Vesey sectors).

Operational Resources

  • FDNY-WTC TF—120 (total firefighters/officers) per 12-hour shift.
  • NY Police Department Emergency Services Units—47 officers per 12-hour shift, NYSP-12/shift; Corrections-14/shift.
  • Port Authority Police Department—40 officers per 12-hour shift.
  • FEMA USAR—one technical specialist providing operational and planning support to FDNY.
  • Department of Environmental Protection—emergency crew on standby at site for water main breaks.
  • Alaska IMT—one to two per Command to assist with planning and documentation.

FDNY/EMS Sector Staffing (Minimums)

  • One EMS lieutenant;
  • One six-wheeled ATV with two EMTs (EMS one-hour shifts/21people per shift);
  • One basic life support (BLS) unit;
  • One advanced life support/paramedic (ALS) unit at Liberty Sector Post;
  • One ALS unit at Vesey sector post; and
  • Disaster Medical Assistance Teams—Liberty Street/West Street (DMAT Medical Command and Pharmacy), Fulton Street/ Church Street.


A component of the Planning function was to assess the accomplishments of the previous 24 hours. At the WTC, among the accomplishments reviewed were the following:

  1. Application of water to the South Tower area and areas from which heat and smoke were escaping, in an attempt to extin-guish/reduce the heat.
  2. Removal of debris from the North Tower area with intermittent use of handlines to cool debris and control dust.
  3. Intermittent use of handlines for dust control at 7 WTC.
  4. Reinforcement of the slurry wall in front of the South Tower; seven tiebacks had been placed.
  5. Removal of steel and debris from the core of the South Tower. Use of handlines for controlling dust and cooling.
  6. NYC Transit Authority conducted entry to the BMT N and R subway lines, south of Chambers; continued for one week.
  7. Establish perimeter wall and access points (light blue badges required to enter).

PLANNED ACTIONS (Next 24 hours)

The Planning function also involved establishing a plan of action for the next 24 hours. Following is a sampling of a WTC schedule of activities:

  1. Steel-cutting operations and subsequent removal of debris by rigging and heavy equipment will continue. Use ironworkers to accomplish this mission. Use FDNY Special Operations Command (SOC) and Police Department (PD) ESU personnel to assist and supplement this function. Use all available cutting setups on a continual basis.
  2. FDNY SOC personnel and PD ESU personnel will continue to conduct void searches as required when heavy steel is removed.
  3. All emergency personnel operating on the South Tower in selected areas will be in bunker pants as needed.
  4. Continue to place and use large-caliber water streams for continuous fire extinguishment operations on the North and South Towers as required. Place and use protective handlines elsewhere as needed.
  5. Continue to review operational/engineering plan to facilitate removal of the west façade walls still standing in the South Tower area. FDNY, Department of Design and Construction, and site construction manager will review plan and evaluate results of deconstruction process.
  6. Continue GPS mapping and documentation of recovery operations and structural features.
  7. Continue to have in operation two camera points for use in locating the flight recorders.
  8. Fire companies to wet down debris fields and dirt roads when requested by DDC.
  9. The Department of Sanitation will continue to water dusty streets and remove garbage.
  10. The Department of Buildings Derrick & Crane unit will conduct site safety inspections of operations, movement, placement, and maintenance.
  11. Continue removal of west and south facades of the South Tower.
  12. Debris removal continues in alley between 4 and 5 WTC.
  13. Debris and steel removal from Bankers Trust building continues day and night.
  14. Department of Health set up monitors for air quality on 1 WFC.
  15. Planned entry into 5 WTC, concourse level, on Thursday for seven businesses at 8:00 a.m.
  16. Debris removal in the alley between 5 and 6 WTC.

The Situation officer coordinated, distributed, and displayed incident-related products such as maps, photos, safety information, and posters; assisted the resource unit leader in distributing the IAP prior to each operational period; distributed map products to specific agencies and organizations; and walked the site to ensure the accuracy of the maps and information (quality assurances). He also informed the Planning chief of any products that needed updating and of any requests for new products received from the field.
The Documentation/GPS officer/data manager collected, reviewed, and filed all incident-related documentation. He supervised GPS handheld devices and log book data entries; maintained and corrected database structure and outputs for the sector logs and the GPS database; coordinated the collection of data related to victim and remains recoveries, captured the data into a GPS database and reconciled this information with the data entry functions of each sector; trained firefighters in the GPS-recovery system; maintained files containing all information needed to document the planning process of the incident; and maintained an inventory of the documentations.
The technical specialist coordinated the inputting of data into the GIS and the production of display products such as maps and photographs. He served as a technical specialist and advisor to the Planning Section chief, providing the chief with a list of available products such as thermal flyover placed on a map of Ground Zero, to pinpoint underground fires. Additionally, he worked with the Situation Unit leader to ensure accurate displays, coordinated with OEM at Pier 92, and provided OEM with new GIS products for distribution to other city agencies.
The Demobilization Unit was activated when a new group of firefighters came to replace the firefighters who had been working at the site for the past 30 days. Officers and firefighters of incoming and outgoing crews participated in a critical incident stress educational session.


A number of lessons were learned relative to the ICS Planning Section during the WTC response.
•The Fire Department's GIS Phoenix Unit was invaluable to operations at Ground Zero. Each day, the unit, in conjunction with technology industries, created new maps for the IC, enabling him to exercise better command and control of the incident site. At the WTC, this led to an extremely safe postcollapse operation. These GIS products were immediately shared with OEM to ensure coordinated interagency efforts. The planning section created many of the new products that became common at Ground Zero, such as the GPS Recovery System, which uses handheld computers with a built-in Global Positioning System to document where victims were found.
•The IAP was used each day. Every participating agency in the WTC disaster came to the FDNY incident command post to gather and exchange information. By giving information in the form of maps and IAPs, all agencies operated under command of the lead agency. This follows the New York City Mayor's directive that places the FDNY as the IC for fire, haz-mat incidents, and building collapse.
•At major incidents, the Planning Section needs to be immediately staffed with chiefs and fire officers instead of waiting for outside government help to arrive. The WTC Planning Section went from one chief to that chief's commanding a planning section consisting of almost 100 people (fire and federal, state, and city government resources). During the first couple of months, all of these people were used to their maximum potential. A fully staffed Planning Section should be deployed as soon as it is recognized that the incident is a major urban incident.
•Fire departments must prepare for future terrorist attacks and major incidents. FDNY will develop its own IMTs to handle urban disasters. This will give FDNY the capability to quickly staff and sustain the major components of the ICS. Fire and EMS personnel will be trained to staff the different units in the Planning Section as well as the other sections of the ICS. In addition, our Operational Planning Unit will develop all hazards plans and preplanning scenarios and tabletop exercises. These plans and exercises assist commanders in preparing their units for future attacks. By preparing and reorganizing our resources, we will be better able to handle the next catastrophic urban disaster.
•A Planning Section must be fully staffed to avoid information overload. When it is recognized that the city is facing a major urban disaster, the various components of the ICS, in particular the Planning Section, should be staffed to full strength. It is vital at a major disaster that the Planning Section manage the incredible amount of information for the IC. The main function of a Planning Section is to take information and make it usable. Transforming information into some sort of map or display usually helps to place the volumes of data into a simplified form that is easily understood by command.
The ICS planning section is no longer a luxury item; it is an integral part of command and control for a fire as well as a catastrophic urban disaster.
JOSEPH W. PFEIFER is a deputy assistant chief, assigned to Division 1, and 21-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York. At the time of the World Trade Center incident, as Battalion 1, he was the first chief to arrive at the scene. He served as planning chief for the postcollapse rescue and recovery effort.

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