23 October 2005


One of the failures of the emergency response on September 11, 2001 was the inability of the New York Police Department and Fire Department to coordinate their activities.

So as a new policy for emergency response was debated, I’d assumed the battle for control in a disaster was one of power between two muscular (mostly) white, male institutions* (mostly) immune from external accountability. Or to put it to a kinder scenario, one of two long-standing, insular city bureaucracies unwilling to bend to the other.

Who would you want in control? One has experience with hazardous materials, the other with crowd control. One carries axes, the other guns.

So what does this have to do with design?

A friend who works for the city put it differently. She cast the dispute in terms of the departments’ relationships to the built environment:

The first response of the NYPD is to quarantine and preserve the evidence at the scene of the crime.

The response of FDNY is to enter forcefully and tear up the scene looking for survivors and hidden fire.

How exactly should they work together?

* As of 2005, FDNY was 92% white and only 28 of the department’s 8,700 firefighters were women. [source] As of 1999, NYPD was 67.4% white and in 2001, 17 percent of sworn personnel were women. [source, source]