Some occupants of WTC 1 and WTC 2 began to voluntarily evacuate the buildings soon after the first aircraft struck WTC 1. Full evacuation of all occupants below the impact floors in WTC 1 was ordered soon after the second plane hit the south tower (Smith 2002). As indicated by Cauchon (2001a), the overall evacuation of the towers was as much of a success as thought possible, given the overall incident. Cauchon indicates that, between both towers, 99 percent of the people below the floors of impact survived (2001a) and by the time WTC 2 collapsed, the stairways in WTC 1 were observed to be virtually clear of building occupants (Smith 2002). In part this was possible because conditions in the stairways below the impact levels largely remained tenable. However, this may also be a result of physical changes and training programs put into place following the 1993 WTC bombing. Important modifications to building egress made following the 1993 WTC bombing included the placement of photo-luminescent paint on the egress paths to assist in wayfinding (particularly at the stair transfer corridors) and provision of emergency lighting for the stairways. In addition, an evacuation training program was instituted (Masetti 2001).
Shortly before the times of collapse, the stairways were reported as being relatively clear, indicating that occupants who were physically capable and had access to egress routes were able to evacuate from the buildings (Mayblum 2001). People within and above the impact area could not evacuate, simply because the stairways in the impact area had been destroyed.
Some survivors reported that, at about the same time that WTC 2 collapsed, lighting in the stairways of WTC 1 was lost (Mayblum 2001). Also, there were several accounts of water flowing down the stairways and of stairwells becoming slippery beginning at the 10th floor (Labriola 2001).
Anecdotes indicate altruistic behavior was commonly displayed. Some mobility-impaired occupants were carried down many flights of stairs by other occupants. There were also reports of people frequently stepping aside and temporarily stopping their evacuation to let burned and badly injured occupants pass by (Dateline NBC 2001, Hearst 2001). Occupants evacuating from the 91st floor noted that, as they descended to lower levels of the building, traffic was considerably impaired and formed into a slowly moving single-file progression, as evacuees worked their way around firefighters and other emergency responders, who were working their way up the stairways or who were resting from the exertion of the climb (Shark and McIntyre 2001).