How Ready Is New York City for Disaster?

Marissa Maier

Downtown Hospital to hold Emergency Preparedness Symposium on Friday By Paul Bisceglio Dr. Antonio Dajer is no stranger to emergencies. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was the physician on duty at New York's Downtown Hospital-the only hospital in Lower Manhattan. The World Trade Center attack forced him to coordinate treatment for over 10 times the emergency room's daily average of 80 to 100 patients, including those with severe burns, gaping wounds and head injuries. Now the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine, Dajer will use his experience in emergency response to direct this year's Emergency Preparedness Symposium, an annual, daylong series of presentations sponsored by the hospital that will be held at Pace University on Friday, Sept. 14. The talks this year will take a hard look at the city's integrated emergency communication systems, asking just how coordinated the NYPD, FDNY and local hospitals are in the face of crisis. "My experience of 9/11 convinced me that communication issues in disaster response are paramount," Dajer told Our Town Downtown. "NYC-and every city and state-needs to keep integrating Fire Department and Police Department communications." Dajer said that this year's symposium differs from previous years' in its exclusive focus on the issue of communication. According to him, the day will provide health care and corporate attendees with practical information on "real-world response tools," including how to improvise with the tools we all have, but don't always think to use in emergencies-smart phones and social media. The day's six presentations will discuss technological and conceptual advances in emergency response at local, national and international levels. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Brian Geehan will begin with the talk "Advances in FDNY Response Practices," and lectures on technologies' role in recent relief efforts for post-earthquake Haiti and post-tornado Joplin, Mo., will follow. After lunch break tours of Downtown Hospital and the World Trade Center, FEMA's regional communications director, Sean Kielty, will detail his agency's extensive communications map, then a Downtown Hospital representative and the emergency preparedness coordinator for New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System will break down the city's own emergency response techniques. Asked what especially would stand out in the presentations, Dajer predicted that "the recent dramatic advances in how social networking can be applied to disaster response" would dominate most of the day's conversation. Tweeting may seem trivial when you're typing about the burger you just ate, but social media has the power to streamline on-the-scene updates of emergencies as they unfold, which can provide response teams with up-to-the-minute information on where their resources are most needed-one component of "crisis mapping," which Dr. Jennifer Chan will address specifically in the Haiti earthquake presentation. The symposium will close with remarks by Dajer, who noted that Downtown Hospital's role in 9/11 has earned the hospital an important and iconic place in emergency preparedness in the world. In 2006, the hospital opened a new $25 million, 26,000-square-foot emergency center capable of treating a 9/11-sized patient load, and it continues to facilitate the emergency preparedness symposium to help the city remain vigilant in the always-looming threat of disaster. The symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday at One Pace Plaza. For more information, visit the hospital's website at