Excerpt from New York Magazine Oct 15, 2001 issue
Man Behind the Mayor
An article on his boss Richie Sheirer
"The night of Tuesday the 11th, Sheirer and his staff never left the Police Academy. "It was dreadful," says Henry Jackson, Sheirer's deputy director for administration, who was responsible for setting up the temporary command post. "The phones kept going down. The little computer network we jerry-rigged kept going down, so everything had to be done with pen and paper."
Sheirer knew he needed another building, one big enough to house a command center the size of a football field, but also secure enough to house the mayor. The location was obvious: He commandeered the facility on the Hudson where he had been scheduled to do his tripod drill the following day. It was a space Sheirer knew well -- when he was a rookie in the Fire Department, he had organized quilting and antique fairs there as a side job.
When Action Jackson, as the deputy administrator is known at OEM, got the order to build a new command center, it was 8 a.m. Wednesday morning; he had slept for two hours on a cot in the Police Academy gym and was still covered in a film of debris. "I loaded up on coffee and smokes," says Jackson with a Han Solo grimace, "and brought a team of ten guys from logistics, telecom, and security to check the place out." By midnight Wednesday, "there were 150 people crawling all over the place," he says. "We gathered the whole crowd of laborers and gave 'em a little Knute Rockne, a little Vince Lombardi speech -- some inspiration. Boom! We got the place up and running and functional in 32 hours." He pauses. "The mayor keeps saying it was 48, but it was 32."
Cement floors were carpeted, tablecloths stapled to tables, areas sectioned off with drywall. The ground level hummed with forklifts moving in mountains of computers, giant spools of cable, and bulk shipments of food and toiletries. The Navy sailed in the U.S.S. Comfort, a medical ship with 900 beds and a full kitchen, and docked it next to the warehouse to serve as a relief hotel.
"I could have asked for anything in the world and gotten it," says Jackson. "Everybody knew we were in charge." Compaq shipped hundreds of computers, Cisco sent servers, Nextel brought in a cell site to boost its signal. By the end of the day, vendors were vying to donate their products. "Now Microsoft is calling me and wants to know why we aren't using Microsoft," sighs Jackson.
Finally, there was the issue of décor: "I'm like, we don't have an American flag here," says Jackson, "I'm like, we need American flags here. I said get American flags! So I had some of the laborers run up and down the place hanging flags." By Friday night, 500 representatives from various city agencies had added their own personal touches, and aerial photographs of the site shared wall space with posters reading STRENGTH AND HONOR and hundreds of handmade cards from kids around the country.
The new command center is organized just the way the original was: FEMA and OEM officials sit on a raised platform known as Command and Control. Surrounding them are ten sections: Health and Medical, Logistics, Transportation, Infrastructure, Law Enforcement, Debris Removal, Aerial Imaging and Mapping, Machinery, Utilities, and Joint Information Center.
By the time Friday night rolled around, Jackson hadn't slept or showered in four days. "I literally hadn't been able to dust myself off," he says. "I
hadn't even been able to think. Then somebody gave me a box of Girl Scout cookies that had a little note on it, from some Girl Scout somewhere. And that's when I lost it. I just started bawling."
Also these pics,