New York Daily News
By GREG B. SMITH DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, May 19th 2004, 6:52AM
The communication failures in the north tower on Sept. 11 have been widely blamed on technical problems.
But the cause of the radio failure may have more to do with human error, not mechanical - and the human's name may be Lloyd Thompson.
The only problem is, Thompson is nowhere to be found. Thompson is a former fire patrol officer for a private security company hired by the managers of the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.
Sept. 11 commission officials have been unable to trace him to inquire about his role that morning in enabling a "repeater" - a device that boosts radio signals to extend their reach.
After the 1993 Trade Center bombing revealed that Fire Department radios could not function up in the towers, a repeater was placed atop 5 World Trade Center.
On Sept. 11, the commission says, the repeater worked, and in the south tower, firefighters used it - even in upper floors.
The north tower was a different story. The repeater was not activated properly from that building, so the chiefs there thought it was broken and did not use it.
How that happened remains a bit of a mystery, though commission officials are convinced Thompson could shed some light on the matter.
Alan Reiss, former director of the World Trade Center, now a Port Authority deputy director, told the Commission that on Sept. 11, the chiefs responding to the south tower found the control panel and activated the repeater.
At the north tower, Deputy Assistant Chief Joseph Pfeifer, at the time a battalion chief, responded to a scene of chaos.
Pfeifer says he instructed a civilian fire patrol officer - Lloyd Thompson - to activate the repeater. On video shot by two French brothers that morning, Pfeifer can be seen talking to Thompson, officials said.
When he checked a few minutes later, Pfeifer found that the repeater was not working, so he assumed it was broken and resorted to two weaker channels to communicate.
That allowed him to give an evacuation order later, after the south tower collapsed, but that order reached only some firefighters. Officials agree that the repeater would have helped more firefighters hear the order to get out.
Sept. 11 commission members want to know if that repeater was ever turned on from the north tower, or if it was turned on improperly. The problem, they say, is that Thompson - who survived the attacks - is nowhere to be found.
"I have no knowledge of who actually turned it on," Reiss told the commission yesterday. "Something was wrong with the desk console. Either the volume was turned down or the right button wasn't pushed. I don't know."
At the time, Thompson worked for OCS Security, a private concern hired by developer Larry Silverstein, who had recently begun running the World Trade Center.
Officials at OCS did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.
WHAT IS A REPEATER?.
A repeater is a radio receiver/transmitter that amplifies radio signals, extending the reach of wireless radios. Useful in congested areas, such as cities with tall buildings.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
It can be programmed to amplify select radio signals received on a designated frequency and retransmit it with more strength on another frequency.
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
After the 1993 bombing of the twin towers, a repeater was placed atop the nine-story building at 5 World Trade Center.
Sept. 11, 2001
From the south tower, emergency personnel successfully accessed the repeater, programming it to accept and retransmit transmissions from that building.
In the north tower, the repeater system was not activated
correctly, so rescue workers were unable to hear warnings to evacuate.