¶ … United 93 directed by Paul Greengrass [...] problems with communication documented in the film, and how those problems need to change to keep the country safe. United 93 tells the story of ordinary citizens who find themselves on one of the planes involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. As they attempt to fight back, the film documents efforts on the ground to thwart the attack, and the problems in communication that were keeping the various government agencies from an effective pursuit of the highjackers.
The film switches between FAA flight controllers in New York, Boston, and Virginia, and it is a graphic illustration of the problems in communication between government agencies, and how those problems waste valuable time. The flight controller in Boston believes he has a highjacking on his hands, but his supervisors do not think it is likely, and do not take him seriously, the first piece of communication that goes awry in the film. A reviewer notes, "The idea of a hijacking seems so dated, so last century, that no one at the FAA can fully accept the reality of the situation until CNN broadcasts one of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center" (Muralidhar, 2006). At first, the FAA is not even aware a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, it is CNN who reports it, and the New York flight controllers see it on the news before they look out their window and see the tower in flames. They literally watch as the second plane screams into New York and crashes into the second tower. All the while, the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, is attempting to contact FAA Headquarters for the permission to scramble jet fighters, but they cannot contact anyone there, even when they know they have a third plane turning from its course and heading toward Washington, D.C.
Unbelievably, it took another plane hitting the Pentagon in Washington D.C. For the FAA to ground every plane and stop all incoming planes. The communications breakdown was difficult to watch, and it pointed out so many different problems with the communications systems and how agencies share information that it was difficult to watch and to comprehend. Knowing that these agencies are still operating in essentially the same manner and without improving technologies is even harder to comprehend.
The film clearly indicates the government was unprepared, and that is understandable, because it was something that no one imagined or could possibly dream about or admit could happen. Yet, there was a general breakdown in communication throughout the film, from the flight controllers who continually had to use protocols and go up the chain of command, to the people on board the planes attempting to communicate what was going on. The FAA controllers literally lost the planes from their radar, indicating out outdated and outmoded the flight control technology is, and how that has not changed since the terrorist attacks. The controllers literally had to rely on eyewitness accounts when they lost the planes on their screens, and that is no way to deal with an event of this magnitude.
It is extremely frustrating to watch this film because it vividly points out the communications problems on the ground and in the air, and it shows that the country was simply not prepared for any kind of terrorist attack, especially from the air. The reviewer continues, "United 93 effectively captures the ensuing chaos and, more than anything else, the lack of vital communication between the FAA, the airlines, the military, and the White House that could have possibly produced a quicker response than what transpired" (Muralidhar, 2006). It was chaos on the ground, and another aspect of that chaos took place on the plane itself. The cabin crew had no training on what to do in case of a highjacking, and when it occurred, there was no policy for the crew to call the FAA or the military directly. One crewmember called United first, and ended up talking with maintenance personnel, who had to relay the news through their reaction here shows just how dangerous that is. No one could make a decision about calling in the military, and it just kept being shifted around. No one was willing to stand up and be a real leader at the FAA until the situation had gotten far too out of hand. Another reviewer notes, "As much as Greengrass shows us the heroism that day - in the air and on the ground in the air traffic control complex - there is an underlying sting about lack of leadership" ("Ewan's a Hit with," 2006, p. 46). The lack of leadership at every level of the FAA showed in the time it took them to poll other controllers, ask for help locating deviant planes, and finally order every plane on the ground. There were problems with communication on board the planes, too. First, the pilots are supposed to "squawk" an emergency frequency if they have an emergency in the cabin, but clearly, if the pilots are incapacitated, they cannot do that, and the controllers lost precious time because the captains did not reply on the emergency frequency. Now, of course, the cockpit doors are locked and secure (one good thing to come out of this tragedy). However, there should have been some kind of button or pedal or something that could be used to communicate immediately if there is a danger on a flight, or some kind of emergency transponder they could hit at the first sign of trouble.
In the same area, the cabin crew did not have a way to communicate with the ground in the case of emergency, they literally had to call United Airlines and talk to a maintenance worker to be able to communicate at all. There should be some kind of emergency procedure and communications directly to the military or at least the FAA in case of an air emergency, and the cabin crew should be trained in what to do in case of any emergency like this. It is not just a problem with United, it is a problem with the entire communications system, and how Americans tend to…
It also says a lot about our society that so many people went to see the film and endorsed the film. It is not because this film is about heroes or heroism. It is because the film's ultimate message is to never forget the people who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was a time when the people of the country came together in support and
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