The City of New York has released partial audio tapes of 911 emergency calls made on September 11, 2001. The recordings include only the voices of emergency personnel; the voices of callers have been removed.
The tapes, heartbreaking even without hearing a word that the victims said, are striking in how they portray one government agency that couldn’t even share basic information with another government agency of the same city. They’re striking in how they show that police, fire and EMS responders actually at the scene could not communicate with 911 dispatchers. They’re striking in that they show that many more people died than otherwise would have, if the government bureaucracy had not been what it was — and still is.
Even more than four years afterward, it’s still very painful to me to hear this. I walked around in something like shock for days afterward, and I wasn’t even in the city at the time. I was supposed to be in 1 WTC at 9:30 that morning; fortunately, instead I was a thousand miles away. But I’m in shock all over again after realizing that so many people died because of government bureaucracy — city government bureaucracy, at that.
And consider this: In a real emergency, relying on 911 is suicide. If not for their misplaced trust in government, many hundreds of those dead would still be alive today. Certainly not all of them; for many, their fates were sealed when the planes hit. But in the end, government incompetence, combined with the terrorist attack, was the cause of death for far too many victims of this particular terrorist attack.
Updated August 17: The New York Fire Department released another set of 911 calls on Wednesday, which it said had been misplaced, though most of them contain only the voices of government employees. One in particular, though, was of Melissa Doi, whose 911 call was played in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.