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I didn't understand "without benefit of staff meetings" means below.

Context:

"The institutions charged with protecting our borders, civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or defeat it," the bipartisan commission unanimously declared.

Only a small band of civilians, strangers to one another -- without benefit of staff meetings, bylaws, uniforms or task forces -- communicating by cell phone with loved ones who happened to be watching TV -- managed to figure out what was going on in time to thwart a guided-missile attack on Washington.

Guess:
Staff, like the staff of a school. If the headmaster of it calls all its members who work in the school to a meeting, we can call the meeting as "staff meeting"? Of course, the reason of the headmaster calling together the staff meeting must have some benefit -- benefit of staff meeting. But I could not understand the describing"without benefit of staff meetings" has something to do with that context.
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Jobb,

Staff = employees

Staff meeting = employee meeting

In the context of the sentence above, you could replace "staff meetings, bylaws, uniforms or task forces" with the word "bureaucracy".

Only a small band of civilians, strangers to one another -- without all the corporate trappings and bureaucracy-- communicating by cell phone with loved ones who happened to be watching TV -- managed to figure out what was going on in time to thwart a guided-missile attack on Washington.

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trappings...

(According to GuruNet)

trappings

n.

Characteristic or symbolic signs: all the trappings of power.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Hope that helps.
Comments  
I think the writer has made a sarcasm for the government's failure responding to 9/11 attacks.