It may take weeks before investigators can answer why another American airliner crashed in New York. But one thing about Monday's tragedy is clear: The disaster plan put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks helped manage the response and calm the public.
Many wondered whether the new federal office of Homeland Security would be able to coordinate a response by the federal, state and local governments. In a short period of time, Director Tom Ridge has brought a strong sense of purpose and organization to the scene. Immediately after being alerted to Monday's crash, Ridge brought together the heads of national security, transportation and civil defense. He kept decisionmakers on the phone and coordinated assistance to New York from Washington. By keeping these lines of communication open, Ridge ensured the government would speak with a single voice. By noontime, a nation on edge was feeling a sense of relief.
The value of having a seamless response cannot be overstated. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was able to close the airports, tunnels and bridges for a reasonable amount of time, and relay to officials in Washington the needs on the ground and the latest developments in the investigation. Federal officials shared the information they needed to avoid having to ground the nation's airlines. In short order, the recovery effort began and evidence was collected. New York and the nation cranked back to life.
Investigators have recovered the cockpit and flight data recorders, the engines and key sections of the aircraft. The clues they contain should help establish whether the crash was accidental. But already, security protocols in place since September have led authorities away from the suspicion that terrorism was involved. We saw on Monday how a well-coordinated effort could ratchet up security; we also saw officials across the spectrum of government make rational and informed decisions. Ridge appears to be getting his arms around a huge and difficult job. Monday wasn't the ultimate test, but it was a reassuring one.