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Sunday, September 12, 2010

READ THIS!....102 Minutes:The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

On 9/11 we were attacked by religious extremists who used our own modern technology against us. They used our open society to murder our citizens.

9/11 is called the “Battle of New York.” by Al Quaeda. It was a battle we lost that day but in the midst of it, there was great heroism.

This is what 102 Minutes is about. The title refers to the time between when the first plane hit the first tower, and the second tower collapsed. Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn have written a powerful, non-fiction story, about people fighting for their lives under unimaginable conditions. This is a riveting masterpiece of reporting.

 The book describes situations where the difference between life and death could have been one step, a decision not to get on elevator, or a word of communication.

102 Minutes is rich in detail. The authors interviewed over 300 eyewitnesses and escapees and perused countless photographs and recordings. Everything in 102 minutes is heavily documented. There are 35 pages of footnotes at the end of the book. Much of this documentation comes from the dead. It is from the dying phone conversations and e-mail messages of those who were ultimately killed in the collapse.

In the time of 102 minutes there is complete despair and great nobility. There is the horror of those seeking any relief from the inferno by leaping out of windows high in the north tower to the bravery of four Port Authority employees who stayed behind to free more than 70 persons who were trapped.

 The authors also intersperse the historical background of the building of the Twin Towers at critical points in their narrative.

In my opinion, the major untold story of 102 Minutes is how the construction regulations and poor coordination between rescue agencies killed more than the attack itself.

As one example, no one escaped the upper floors of Tower One because all three of the stairwells in that building had been severed, doors leading to the rooftop were locked, and there was absolutely no planning or coordination for any type of rooftop rescue. The combination of these factors killed around 1000 people who might otherwise have had a chance. Because the Port Authority was allowed to erect skyscrapers with insufficient stairways or fireproofing many victims were forced to leap to their deaths.

Groups of people in Tower Two who had already come down to the lobby were told it was safe to go back to their offices. Most returned. Those that did died when the second plane hit. Tower Two had a functioning stairwell, but few knew about it, and many who died were simply waiting in their offices for help to arrive.

When Tower Two collapsed no one was able to communicate to the hundreds of firefighters still in Tower One to give them an evacuation order. This is directly attributable to inter-agency fighting over radio frequencies and communication methods. Radios capable of this kind of communication were sitting in boxes on shelves and were not used when they could’ve saved hundreds of lives.

 "The people fighting the two worst building fires in the nation's history had no video monitors. No radio communications with other agencies. No way to get reports from police helicopters and only a limited ability to communicate among themselves."
Of the 2,749 people thought to have been killed in the attack, the authors estimate that at least 1,500, "and possibly many more," survived the initial plane crashes but died because they could not get out of the towers before they collapsed.

 Greed played a huge part in this. The floor plan of the towers was created to provide more rentable space than other designs. The financiers needed to make this happen, and they found engineers who would go against their own better judgment — agreeing to the use of the flimsy floor trusses without fireproofing. These decisions ultimately brought down the buildings.

 By implication, 102 Minutes also raises a series of vital questions about today's state of preparedness. Sept. 11 demonstrates, above all, that the first responders in any future terrorist attack will probably be ordinary citizens.

So why is there no nationwide effort, like the one the United States conducted during the Cold War, to train citizens in the rudiments of emergency response?

Why has the private sector, which controls some 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, been allowed to drift with little or no oversight of its preparedness for another catastrophic event?

Why was the issue of emergency communications gear that would have let police and firefighters talk to one another -- a central failing of the Sept. 2001 responses in both New York and Washington -- dropped from the reform package passed based on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations?

 And why didn't that package insist on focusing spending for homeland security on the targets that al Qaeda is most likely to hit, rather than using it on pork projects elsewhere?

102 MINUTES: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers is a gripping and informative read. You will finish the book inspired by the heroism, amazed at the serendipity of instances of survival, and, more than anything, angered at what contributed to the collapse of these buildings and the deaths of so many.

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