MEMORANDUM Re: American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center The central issue in this case is the impact that informal groups can have on public administration. On September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists, over 3000 people lost their lives. There was, and still is, no doubt that this event reached throughout America and touched each one of us. We can all remember where we were and what we were doing the very moment we found out about it. This case expressed the issues that many people had concerning what to do in the aftermath of this disaster, especially New York firefighters.
They lost 343 of their colleagues and were determined not to leave any of them behind. It reminded me of the military and their “no man left behind” mantra, and understandably so. However, because this disaster affected so many other people outside of just firefighters, it caused a lot of emotional distress for a variety of people. When dealing with emotionally charged informal groups such as this, it is important for public administrators to realize that they must not only consider their own individual objectives in order to achieve success, but must also consider the emotional impact on everyone involved.
In this case, the informal groups that formed consisted of widows, firemen, construction workers, and the police. Inherent in the culture of both firefighters and police is a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood. However, this incident created even stronger emotional bonds within each group but also created more dissention when interacting with the other groups involved. In this case, the grief that everyone was feeling brought each group together and created a long-lasting deep emotional bond.
With a disaster such as this, in order for public administrators to identify the group’s needs and wants, they must take the time to listen and make decisions that are not only the most efficient but ones that consider the emotional needs of the parties involved. Burton and Cote acknowledged that the true measure of their success would have to involve the emotional considerations of each group (Stillman, 2010). These groups had a great deal of influence over public administrators for a number of reasons. One reason is that this event had national attention and the hearts of all Americans went out to all of those who lost loved ones.
Because public administrators were in the spotlight, they had to consider the needs of those involved. Also, because these groups were very well organized, they not only demanded attention, they commanded it. And how could any public administrator simply ignore them or turn their backs on them? The main source of disagreement was whether or not to focus on quickly unbuilding the site or to tediously search for the bodies of each firefighter that was lost in this tragedy in an effort to provide their families with closure.
This case centered around the firefighters because they were involved in the daily search missions, received consistent media attention, and ultimately organized a huge protest consisting of “nearly a thousand” members which ultimately turned violent (Stillman, 2010). Although their desire to find their comrades was understandable, it was also a bit selfish because they only seemed genuinely concerned about their own even though the biggest loss of all were the innocent citizens in both of the buildings. The loss of the firefighters only amounted to a small percentage compared to the total loss of life.
Another area of conflict involved the disagreement of where the city should sort through the bodies. The fact that the city was willing to risk some of the bodies being discovered in the debris at Fresh Kills outraged both firefighter and widows. They preferred to dig carefully through the debris at the site or someplace close by rather than at Fresh Kills. However, public administrators also had to consider which method would be in the best interest of time and the most effective in cleaning up the area so the city could return to some sense of normalcy.
Balancing these two opposing objectives proved to be very troublesome for every person involved. The mayor and DDC officials tried to mediate the disputes between the groups by holding meetings and listening to the concerns of each of the parties involved. Initially the firefighters lead the rescue missions but in an effort to create a more balanced environment at the site, Mayor Giuliani decided to give the DDC oversight. They ultimately divided the area into separate zones with equal amounts of police officers and firefighters.
Construction workers worked along with each of the groups to assist in them in their recovery efforts. This resolution was met with extreme opposition by the firefighters. They didn’t want to be limited in the amount of people they could have out there searching for their comrades. This fueled the anger between firefighters and police officers and was ultimately ineffective at diffusing the conflict between them. Langewiesche acknowledged that “The tensions never went away…” (Stillman, 2010, p. 169). However, they did work together more peacefully.
Each of the groups in this case had their own agenda that they were determined to accomplish. The firefighters wanted to find their dead, the widows wanted their spouses found and to be given the opportunity to give them a proper burial, construction workers wanted to clear the sight as efficiently and quickly as possible, and police officers wanted to maintain control of the pile as they had been tasked to do. As Mayo pointed out, “If managers are to lead organizations effectively, human groups need to be recognized, understood, and well integrated within their operation” (Stillman, 2010).
The Mayor, public administrators, and most Americans recognized and understood each of the groups involved in this case. However, the problem lied in integrating the needs of each group into the operation. It is impossible to please everyone and this case demonstrated that in order to be successful with different groups and opposing interests, public administrators must create a sense of balance. By balancing the needs and wants of each group, the mayor and DDC officials were able to stay on task with the job at hand while at the same time considering the emotional needs of the other parties involved.
The firefighters were eventually allowed to search for their dead at the pile in larger numbers, but they had very little say so in anything else. No one group can have everything they want, but if managers can provide each group with some of what they want, the overall mission can be successful. References Stillman, R. J. (2010). Public Administration: Concepts and cases: 2010 custom edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin--Cengage Learning.