When Tony Lifrieri began managing 1177 Avenue of the Americas, a Silverstein-owned tower near Rockefeller Center, he hooked up a red phone in his basement office.
It connects directly to external lines, the former BOMA president explained, so if the building’s phone system shut down, calls can still go through.
Ten years ago, on the morning of September 11, firemen lined up in the lobby of 111 Broadway, a building Lifrieri was managing at the time, to use a phone just like it.
They’d begun streaming in after the first plane hit, asking for spare walkie-talkies after theirs had died. Lifrieri handed out six radios, and brought down masks and rags.
Earlier in the day, just as he was settling in, Lifrieri noticed papers swirl outside his office on the 14th floor, as smoke trailed out of the north tower.
His brother, head of airline services at JFK, called to warn him that the attack was no accident; other planes had been hijacked. Immediately, Lifrieri ordered an evacuation.
“I told the chief engineer to close the HVAC, and make sure the windows were closed,” he said. “I told tenants to get out.” He and the engineer climbed to the roof to clear away debris, where they caught a glimpse of flames leaping from the towers.
An hour later, Lifrieri was out on Church Street when he heard four quick pops. Police and firemen, who by then had turned the lobby of 111 Broadway into a virtual command center, raced out as the south tower began to collapse.
Ed Fallon, vice president of operations at Brookfield Properties and the current president of BOMA, had briefly joined Lifieri on the sidewalk.
After ordering tenants to evacuate, Fallon had left his own office on the sixth floor of One Liberty Plaza to check on colleagues at the World Financial Center, where he now has an office. At one point, he helped rescue a woman who dived under a car to escape falling debris.
After hearing the planes crash earlier that morning, on the day he was scheduled to attend his first BOMA board meeting, Fallon recalled the security bulletins Brookfield Properties had received throughout the summer, warning about a potential terrorist strike by Osama Bin Laden.
When the first tower began to crumble, Fallon made a left onto Liberty Street. By then, One Liberty Plaza had largely been emptied out, as had much of the World Financial Center.
As a black cloud of dust rolled north, Lifrieri raced into the lobby of 111 Broadway. “It was hard to breathe,” he said. “But we had plenty of water, so we stayed in the building.”
A group of 60 tenants, who had ignored warnings to evacuate earlier, gathered in the lobby. If the second tower collapsed, Lifieri assured them, they could all seek shelter in the basement.
“All of a sudden, we heard a huge rumble,” Lifrieri said. He headed downstairs, the tenants following behind. To his surprise, smoke and debris filled the engine room; the tower had descended with such force that it propelled dust through a network of vents and service tunnels.
The group waited out the collapse in the lobby. At that point, the sky had turned black with soot. When the air began to clear, Lifrieri urged the crowd to head east and south, away from the site. “When the tenants left, we assessed the damage,” he said. 400 windows had shattered on the side of the building facing the towers. 200 were broken on the other side.
Lifrieri asked the building’s guards, janitors, and engineers if they wanted to go home. Nobody budged. “It’s a testament to our industry,” he said. By late afternoon, a police officer ordered everyone out. Lifieri couldn’t find the keys to the century-old tower, which had been monitored for decades by a 24-hour security service. So the chief engineer snuck into the basement and guarded the building all night.
Lifieri, who lives in Westchester County, walked to a friend’s apartment on 54th Street. As he passed through Union Square, he spotted rescue workers nailing together coffins and preparing for a deluge of injured survivors that never emerged.
Ed Fallon, too, had made his way uptown, unable to return to his wife and children in New Jersey for two days.
Over at One Liberty Plaza, which had shaken violently as the towers collapsed, repairs began the next morning. “We didn’t waste any time,” Fallon said. “The only vehicle we had in fighting back was rebuilding.”
Fallon spent the night at a hotel, and was escorted by a police officer downtown.
Maintenance crews cleared out dust and patched up shattered windows. 42 days later, the building was one of the first in the area to re-open.
“I recall the companies wanting to come home,” Fallon said. “I’m sure there were people that had reservations, but most wanted to come back.”
In the days after the attacks, 111 Broadway’s role as a command post broadened. The Red Cross directed their operations from the back of the building, and the NYPD temporarily set up headquarters there before moving to a Burger King across the street. Doctors set up a triage center in the lobby.
“FEMA was coming around,” said Lifieri, who spent 23 nights at a Hyatt in midtown. “The FBI was all over our building.”
The next Sunday, the National Guard arrived. The troops were young, Lifieri recalled, and unfamiliar with the layout of Lower Manhattan; he was repeatedly asked for directions to the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. Still, despite the chaos near Ground Zero, civility reigned.
When a shoe shiner returned to his shop in the basement of 111 Broadway not long after the attack, he discovered a note in the cash register, clipped to several dollar bills. An emergency worker, perhaps one of the National Guards, had paid him after taking an item from his shelves.
As the weeks passed, tenants begged Lifieri to let them upstairs so they could retrieve hard drives packed with important data. Some companies were too shaken by the attacks to return.
Now, with the anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Lifieri makes sure to have battery-operated radios on hand, in addition to his trusty red phone.
Security teams routinely patrol 1177 Avenue of the Americas with bomb-sniffing dogs, and guards and tenants alike are trained to recognize suspicious behavior.
“Security has been stepped up quite a bit,” he said. “The industry is very well-prepared.” Not long after the attack on the World Trade Center, Lifieri established BOMA’s preparedness committee, which works closely with the Office of Emergency Management and disseminates security briefs to members. “I get information from Silverstein and security consultants,” he said.
Tenants receive notifications through a building-wide website, but for the most part, security training takes place behind the scenes. The staff at 1177 Avenue of the Americas meets regularly over breakfast to discuss the latest updates. “We do what-if games; drills for bomb scares and blackouts,” he said.
And should an emergency the scale of 9/11 take place again, his chief engineer won’t have to sleep in the basement. “I have a set of keys in my desk,” Lifieri said.