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9-11-01 to 5-01-11…

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  July 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

I still have not yet found the words to adequately describe my reaction when the news came late Sunday night, 05-01-11, that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces.

For my wife and I and my sister-in-law were amongst the many New Yorkers and Washingtonians…and commuters and travelers and workers and visitors who were going about our business…when all hell literally broke loose on a bright and sunny morning, 9-11-01.

We were commuting from our then-home on Staten Island to midtown Manhattan, riding on the M6 bus from the ferry when the driver stared through his rear view mirror and screamed, “The World Trade is on fire!” We ran to the left side of the bus, craned our eyes upward and saw the smoke billow from the north tower. I got out near my office in the Flatiron District, staring down Sixth Avenue at the towers with the hordes of others, listening to a radio in a white van, trying to figure out what was going on…and then we watched the second plane crash into the south tower. In the meantime my sister-in-law heard a loud bang as her subway train passed beneath the site.

With strong memories of evacuations and “security alerts” while living in the U.K. during terror campaigns and having interviewed experts in the wake of the first World Trade Center bombing, I called my wife and sister-in-law and said we’re getting out. Our offices were located near the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden and nobody knew then how many planes were still in the air. And shortly afterward our companies gave us the evacuation order.

I left carrying my laptop and my now useless cell phone – much of the wireless and landline communications collapsed with the towers – on the long walk to the Hudson River to catch the ferries to New Jersey. On the way my sister-in-law suffered a heart attack; the lines waiting to board made way for her and she was rushed on the other side with my wife to a nearby hospital; there was a long line of ambulances waiting for the survivors. I made my way to a friend’s home where I logged in and made – and answered – “Are You OK?” e-mails.

What I do have is a heartfelt thanks to the brave men and women both uniformed and civilian who responded to save lives. Like our son, a paramedic who was called in from his home on Staten Island to perform triage near what became known as “Ground Zero”. We didn’t know if our son was alive or dead – or him us – for two days.

I also have a salute to those in the military and intelligence and law enforcement agencies who have been relentless in pursing the perps and bringing them to justice at the risk to their lives. I bow to the families who have and who continue to support them.

Finally, I have a strong appreciation to the many hundreds of the unseen but heard individuals who were there for everyone at their time of need: the contact center agents. The ones who took the calls for the 9-1-1 dispatch, the airlines, especially American and United, the public agencies notably the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the military and for the communications carriers and the hospitals. Staying calm yet empathetic, asking what needed to be asked when listening to the fear, the worry and the anger and the upset as the horror unfolded and collapsed required (and requires) a special kind of strength.

The September issue of Customer Interaction Solutions has a feature on business continuity/disaster response. I want to know about products and services that can help contact centers effectively get through the next disaster, large and small. Equally if not more importantly I want to hear from contact centers and their managers who were running their operations on 9-11-01 so I can tell their stories and find out what has changed in their processes, to be ready the next time.

The hard fact is that the victory in the war on terror on 05-01-11 will not be the last that is needed. And that contact centers, and their agents, will be called on again in such events, being there, on the line when they are most needed.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi