9-11 Commission Report misinformation on evacuation drills

9-11 Commission Report misinformation on evacuation drills
By Peter Duveen

When the 9-11 Commission Report came out in 2004, I was not particularly sanguine regarding its prospects in terms of accuracy. I did not bother to wade through the entire work, which was billed as well-written and exciting reading. Nothing bores me more than a perversion of the truth. I did, however, check out a portion of the document that related to a personal experience.

In 1999, I was working at Fuji Bank, on the 79th Floor of World Trade Center 2. During my short tenure there, I participated in a drill in which I along with about fifty other employees descended all 79 floors through the stairwells and exited the building. It was this kind of preparation that I believed was responsible for so many people being able to escape from the Twin Towers on 9-11, and I wanted to see what the 9-11 Commission report said about it. Sure enough, the document devotes some sentences to the type of drill I had experienced.

On pages 280-281, the report states: [1]

"Deputy fire safety directors conducted fire drills at least twice a year, with advance notice to tenants. 'Fire safety teams' were selected from among civilian employees on each floor and consisted of a fire warden, deputy fire wardens, and searchers....

"But during these drills, civilians were not directed into the stairwells, or provided with information about their configuration and about the existance of transfer hallways and smoke doors. Neither full nor partial evacuation drills were held."

Naturally, I was disappointed. The statement in the report directly contradicted my personal experience. This misstatement of fact did not lend credibility, at least in my eyes, to the report as a whole. However, this was merely my personal experience. One man's testimony does not count for much in the forum of ideas. Perhaps I imagined or made up my evacuation experience.

However, several studies of the evacuation of the World Trade Center on 9-11 have since been completed, and at least one of these fills us in on the important details.

On June 6, 2006, a presentation [2] is said to have been delivered by Robyn R.M. Gershon, who headed one such study, in which the point in question was addressed. The sampling upon which the study was based consisted of 1,767 returned surveys, among which 1,444 were completed by evacuees on 9-11.

On page 34, the presentation states that among those sampled:

"94% had never exited the building as part of a drill"

"81% had participated in fire drills, but of these, only 11% had ever entered a stairwell"

From the first bullet point above, one can conclude that some 6 percent had actually exited the building as part of a drill. From the second point, simple mathematics will tell us that about 9 percent of the population sampled had at least entered a stairwell.

One must ask why the 9-11 Commission Report contradicts these findings.

It is possible that the 9-11 Commission did not interview a suffient cross-section of people to reveal the facts of the matter. If it had not done so, then why would it attempt to extrapolate from a statistically insufficient sample? And yet, if the sample was sufficient in size, why did it not yield the same results as the Gershon study?

One cannot discount out of hand the possibility that the mistatement of fact was deliberate. If this were so, what would the motivation of the commission have been to misrepresent the facts?

[1] "9-11 Commission Report." New York: Barnes and Noble. 2006.

[2] "The World Trade Center Evacuation Study: Lessons Learned for Other High Rise Office Buildings." NFPA World Safety Conference & Exposition, June 6, 2006, Orlando, Florida, by Robyn R.M Gershon, MHS, DrPH Principle Investigator, The World Trade Center Evacuation Study, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.


Perhaps the writers of the 9-11 Commission Report feared that complete-evacuation drills would be evidence of foreknowledge.