19 Years Later: What Lessons Have We Learned from 9/11?

Blog Post created by jimpauley Employee on Sep 11, 2020

Every year on this day, I am overwhelmed with a sense of sadness that almost seems as raw as it did on that beautiful September morn in 2001. Tears flow. Memories flood. And I wonder, what have we learned in the aftermath of 9/11?


Nineteen years ago, we said we’d never forget.


At NFPA, we have not forgotten 9/11 nor will our nearly 125-year old organization ever forsake first responders. As I often say, “NFPA goes where first responders go.”


NFPA’s purview extends beyond the response community, and our Association continuously remembers the lessons learned from 9/11 by working with individuals and organizations across a wide spectrum of safety to usher in the critical changes needed to ensure that people, property, and first responders are protected to the utmost.


Looking back at NFPA Journal articles, NFPA blogs, and interviews on YouTube, there have been at least a dozen NFPA codes and standards that have been altered or influenced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. Our global advocacy efforts have also driven change. Some of the advancements include:


  • In 2005 and 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released landmark reports on the investigation of three buildings — the 110-story towers and Building 7. The 2005 report outlined 30 recommendations for NFPA and other standards development organizations to address. NFPA immediately got to work addressing these recommendations in its codes and standards by gathering a team of engineers, architects, fire service officials, and public advocacy groups to form the High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee (HRBSAC) in 2004. The committee prepared recommendations in the form of proposed code changes primarily for NFPA 1 Fire Code; NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; and NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and other NFPA projects, as applicable.
  • Details related to a building’s means of egress design in NFPA 101 were revisited, including width of exits and use of elevators by occupants and first responders.
  • Mass notification systems per NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code were revised. Before 9/11, the code did not permit other signals to override the fire alarm signal. NFPA 72 now allows another emergency signal to take precedence over a fire alarm signal.
  • The construction, location and practices surrounding building security were adjusted in NFPA 730 Guide for Premises Security as well as the placement, performance and testing of these systems as defined in NFPA 731 Standard for Installation of Premises Security Systems.
  • The need to prepare for other manmade or natural catastrophes was made evident in the 9/11 Commission Reportwhich encouraged the private sector to adopt NFPA 1600 Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management. NFPA 1600 is widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, international and global basis. It has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness.
  • Fire service agencies and related organizations, including NFPA, began to underscore the all-hazards role that emergency responders play in society. In the aftermath of 9/11, NFPA conducted the 1st Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service in 2001 to identify where fire departments are meeting the needs of their communities and where there are gaps in the service they provide. Insights from 9/11 and the Needs Assessment have led to changes over the years— specifically, technology used by firefighters and personal protective equipment—but certain gaps still exist, due in part to monetary shortfalls. The Needs Assessment Survey of the U.S. Fire Service deploys every five years; the 5th edition of the survey will be sent to every fire department in the U.S. late next week. Additionally, programs such as the Assistance for Firefighter Grants and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants have provided extensive funds annually for community preparedness—particularly for fire department staffing, equipment, vehicles, and training but as we are seeing yet again during COVID times, common thinking is that firefighters only fight fires.
  • New types of communication, including wireless systems dedicated to emergency responder use, are now designed so that firefighters and other emergency personnel can more easily communicate with each other. Since 9/11, NFPA committees have worked on a range of code provisions that address this all-hazards approach. Communications capabilities or specifically what's known as "interoperability," the ability to send and receive urgent messages during an emergency incident as quickly as possible, was widely discussed in the wake of 9/11. In 2011, former NFPA fire service segment director Ken Willette told NFPA Journal, "Giving everybody a portable radio isn't the answer to interoperability post 9/11. You need to have good standard operating procedures in addition to a well-developed infrastructure to support this technology.”
  • NFPA 1561 Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety now provides requirements for using "clear text" terminology during an incident rather than radio codes, with the intent of providing a more accurate picture of what's actually happening at the scene.
  • Protecting responders from various respiratory hazards was also addressed in NFPA 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services. Provisions for the cleaning and decontamination of personal protective equipment soiled by the threats noted above are also part of the current edition of NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
  • And changes to both NFPA 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents and NFPA 1026 Standard for Incident Management Personnel Professional Qualifications ensure that emergency responders, specialized personnel, and incident command competencies are prioritized. Responders and fire service leaders, faced with the unthinkable, now have better training, insights, and authority as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.


At NFPA, our more than 300 employees come to work each day to help save lives and reduce loss with information, knowledge, and passion. Like so many others, we will never forget 911, and will continue to incorporate the lessons learned in Manhattan many years ago by delivering information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering our mission.