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Probe clears radio gear in WTC chaos

NY DAILY NEWS | April 6, 2005
BY PAUL H.B. SHIN

Radio signal boosters blamed for hurting communication among cops and firefighters in the twin towers on 9/11 did not malfunction - but the evacuation was still slowed by faulty use of the equipment, according to a federal report released yesterday.

The extensive report also found that the World Trade Center could have withstood the terror attack if the impact of the hijacked jets had not dislodged fireproofing in the towers.

The findings came after a 21/2-year probe by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which began its investigation following an outcry from victims' families.

The radio signal booster, or repeater, in the north tower had long been blamed for hurting communication between cops and firefighters. But the repeater was not even used, investigators said.

Commanders in the lobby mistakenly thought the repeater was broken after they couldn't hear signals clearly. But the feds found the problem may have simply been caused by a broken earpiece or the volume being turned down too low.

"Lack of timely information-sharing and inadequate communications capabilities likely contributed to the loss of emergency responder lives," said Shyam Sunder, a lead investigator.

Mayor Bloomberg said he had not studied the report but suggested the city's emergency radio system had improved dramatically since 9/11. "What is clear is that our Fire Department, our Police Department, all of the different city agencies have worked very hard in the last three years to learn everything they possibly could," Bloomberg said.

The other key finding in yesterday's report was the exact sequence of how the towers collapsed.

Steel floor beams weakened by the blaze pulled in the skyscrapers' weight-bearing external walls, leading them to fail catastrophically, engineers said.

Immediately before the north tower collapsed, its outer wall warped inward by as much as 55 inches. "That's a lot of inward bowing," Sunder said.

Investigators also found that the north tower's survivors took about 48 seconds to descend a single flight - twice as long as building codes say is safe.

The report will be used to make recommendations for revised building and fire codes and evacuation procedures.

But Sally Regenhard, co-chairwoman of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, criticized the probe.

"It's clear that the radios failed," said Regenhard, whose son Christian, a probie firefighter, died in the collapse.

Regenhard also noted that some Trade Center workers had testified that crucial fireproofing was missing from steel columns even before the terror attack.

"There are numerous experts who take issue with the findings of this draft report," she said.

The feds will issue a final report in June after six weeks of public comment.

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