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WTC Familes Urge Skyscraper-Safety Changes

A federal commission studying the Sept. 11 attacks should press for wholesale improvements in the construction, fireproofing and evacuation of high-rise buildings, two skyscraper-safety advocates said Wednesday.

"Unbelievably, evacuation and emergency preparedness were sorely lacking or totally nonexistent on 9-11," said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband, Richard, was killed at the World Trade Center.

Gabrielle, co-chair of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign (search), was among the witnesses at a hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (search).

The bipartisan panel, headed by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (search), was created by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before Sept. 11 and its response to the attacks, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters.

Wednesday's hearing focused on how government and industry can cooperate to improve emergency planning.

Gabrielle said the managers and tenant companies of the World Trade Center should have overhauled their procedures after the first terrorist attack on the complex, a 1993 bombing, revealed flaws in evacuation procedures.

Sally Regenhard, founder and chairwoman of the skyscraper advocacy group, fought back tears as she described the pitfalls that awaited her son, Christian, and other New York City firefighters who went to the burning towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Emergency stairwells should have been wider, she said, and firefighter radio communications were inadequate even through they had emerged as a problem after the 1993 bombing.

"The widespread failures in evacuation procedures, building code issues and emergency communications became a prescription for disaster," said Regenhard, whose son was one of 343 firefighters killed.

Some audience members brought signs expressing frustration over the panel's dealings with the government.

The commission's work over the past few months has been stalled by disputes over government documents it requested. Last week, it reached a deal with the administration to gain restricted access to intelligence reports that President Bush received before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The 10-member commission has a deadline of May 27 to report its findings and recommendations.