The catastrophe of September 11 didn’t end that day and the heroes that responded rarely worked alone. Recovery efforts at Ground Zero began immediately after the attacks and required effective collaboration among dedicated and highly skilled teams from disparate local, state and federal agencies. One that stands out is the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Deployable Tactical Operations System (DTOS) team.
The DTOS team arrived at Ground Zero from Mobile, Alabama, with a convoy of emergency response vehicles just 28 hours after the attack and immediately recognized that communications were limited and coordination was lacking. They found a scene of fear and frustration. They immediately took the initiative and collaborated with the New York Fire Department (FDNY), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), US Fire Administration (USFA) and FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams (US&R) to establish much needed command posts that enhanced each agency’s disaster response and recovery efforts.
DTOS team members provided the FDNY with command and control centers from which it could manage its overall response to the disaster, and multiple means of communication—including handheld radios, satellite communications links and computer and telephone systems—to coordinate its response.
Team leader Michael Miller, a 37-year veteran of federal service, said the most difficult undertaking was simply maintaining effective communications across the entire Ground Zero site. Hard-line communication lines set up with Verizon, the local service provider, would be established only to be cut off again because of recovery work being done on the site. “We probably spent more time establishing and maintaining communications throughout the area than anything else,” he said.
In the end, the team accomplished what it set out to do: setting up communications for firefighters working to save lives. What did it take to succeed? “It took a lot of perseverance and close teamwork with FEMA, the Urban Search and Rescue Response team, the US Fire Administration and the FDNY,” said Miller.
FDNY personnel recognized the DTOS team’s many contributions. When the DTOS team finally left Ground Zero in October, personnel from both agencies shared highly emotional moments that only a strong esprit de corps can create. Two months later, FDNY Chief Peter Hayden embraced several DTOS team members during a post-response site visit to Ground Zero.
Michael Miller described this camaraderie: “We clearly recognized that we all had crossed organizational boundaries and, during the response, had functioned as a single team. Simply put, we all were left with the understanding that we share the same values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, personal courage and above all, honor.”