Voices: the impact of Sept. 11

Voices: the impact of Sept. 11

ARTHUR PYSTER

[IMGCAP(1)]On the evening of Sept. 11, I flew on an FAA plane from Georgia to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport outside Washington. I recall the eeriness of not seeing any aircraft the entire way to D.C. until we came close to the city, and then being greeted by fighter jets. They circled our plane and flew nearby until we landed. Leaving an empty airport, we drove past a burning Pentagon.

Since Sept. 11, I have a much heightened awareness of my family's safety. We have stocked up on food, medicine and water, prepared for a quick evacuation if necessary, and maintain constant awareness of what is happening in the area. Before Sept. 11, terrorism was something remote. Now it is close.

In my professional life, I have a much stronger sense of focus and purpose. I am responsible for protecting FAA's computer systems against cyberattack.

Before Sept. 11, I believed the primary threat was hackers and crackers who might damage the air traffic control system, but did not want to take lives. Now I know better and am focused on repelling any new attacks against the nation's air traffic control system. Another attack is certainly possible.

Arthur Pyster is deputy CIO of the Federal Aviation Administration.

JACK BELCHER

[IMGCAP(2)]In Arlington, Va., preparations for Sept. 11 began'unknowingly'in mid-August as we got ready for the International Monetary Fund meetings in September and the demonstrations expected to accompany them. We rehabilitated the county's Emergency Operations Center, which had last been used for the year 2000 crisis.

On the night of Sept. 10, the last connections were installed and tested. The county manager said he would call a fire drill in the next few days to see if the EOC was ready. Of course, the systems were tested sooner than we expected'the next day's attacks being no fire drill.

For the next three weeks, the IT world was turned on its head. My staff provided around-the-clock support for the EOC and the Pentagon Logistics Center.

We designed a fixed wireless network to connect the county's wired network to the Pentagon parking lot and built it from scratch with borrowed parts from Avaya Inc. and AT&T Corp. and tools donated by Home Depot. Workers from Signal Corp. deployed it in the dead of night.

Yet, the real lesson learned from the disaster was that it really was not more technology that was needed but less'that is, less invasive and more enabling. Fire, police and health workers reaching the end of around-the-clock days simply have no patience for technology that doesn't work the first time or requires time to learn and master. Simple tasks such as faxing invoices and printing reports took on a gravity that far exceeded the normal use of the technology.

Since then, our lives have changed. Our IT budget for next year is what we call a wartime budget. We are going to focus on public safety, disaster recovery and business continuity.

Jack Belcher is the CIO of Arlington County, Va.

DIANE NESTER KRESH

[IMGCAP(3)]I was the last to leave the sixth floor of the Library of Congress' James Madison Memorial Building after shutting blinds, closing doors and calling all my department's offices to ensure that employees knew they were being evacuated.

My husband and I retrieved our children from school where personal stories were already circulating about who was where when it happened.

The Library of Congress' decision to create the September11.archive.org Web site was born of a need to know and understand the unknowable as well as a professional obligation to document diverse historical and cultural experiences. It offered the unexpected opportunity for catharsis, of working through complicated emotions to memorialize, renew faith in mankind and pay homage to the resilience of the human spirit.

Did I emerge from Sept. 11 a changed person? I think so ... maybe chastened, less innocent, more aware of how impermanent life is. That's all the more reason to record and collect'so that others who come after may reflect on who we were and what we were about.

Sept. 11 reminded me of another day that started off just like any other'but I will remember always where I was and what I was doing when President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

Diane Nester Kresh is director of public service collections at the Library of Congress.

ARTHUR W. BISHOP

[IMGCAP(4)]It was about 9 a.m. on Sept. 11 and I was standing in the atrium of World Trade 7 looking up at the smoke and fire coming from the North Tower when I witnessed the second hijacked airliner slam into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Since that day, much has changed'just how much is still being processed. For I feel that on Sept. 11 every American in many different ways crossed a threshold to a new way of life.

As for me, some of the most profound changes will be in how I view a building I enter. Where am I going and how will I evacuate in case of a disaster? When I leave the building, where do I go and how far do I need to be from it to be safe?

Perhaps most importantly, this disaster has heightened my awareness of the plight of handicapped workers. How do you evacuate someone from the 10th floor who is confined to a wheelchair when the elevators are shut down? Many handicapped people were stranded at the World Trade Center.

What of the hearing impaired? How are they to be alerted to evacuate, then communicated with afterward?

Many evacuees, like myself, wandered in the streets close to the North Tower not knowing where to go or what to do. It wasn't until I located a fellow Secret Service employee that I knew where I was supposed to be. He had a SkyTel pager and was receiving pages from our control center in Washington.

Since my return to Washington, I have begun working with our Emergency Preparedness Program to establish a buildingwide group page to be used in the event of an evacuation. We have also issued messaging pagers to the hearing-impaired.

My hope is that we will never have to implement emergency procedures again as we did in New York. But if we do, I want it known that we all learned a valuable lesson from Sept. 11.

Arthur W. Bishop is a telecommunications specialist in the IRM division of the Secret Service.

MARK GRABOW

[IMGCAP(5)]Most Americans have come to grips with the fact that we have a new way of life. There was life prior to Sept. 11 and life after. For most federal employees this is more evident throughout the workday. From the tighter security to the constant reminders that we are closer to the targets than most people will ever be. Those of us who escaped the horrors at the World Trade Center need only close our eyes to see just how close we are.

The time for re-evaluation is at hand, a re-evaluation of our priorities, our exposure to threat and our tolerance of life's little problems. Some things are just not worth worrying over anymore.

But four commitments need no evaluation: my commitments to my wife, family, God and my country. If anything, they are strengthened by the events of Sept. 11. Other truths have become clearer and more focused. The virtual target painted on the roof of my building was not always as easy to see. The fact that life will never be the same is plain as day.

Many young men and women have gone off to war, risking life and limb for their country. Many others go to work every day here in Washington, risking nothing less. As time goes on there is a tendency to become complacent, but the ribbons for our fallen comrades serve as a reminder to remain vigilant.

Mark Grabow is a telecommunications specialist in the IRM division of the Secret Service.

JOHN GILLIGAN

[IMGCAP(6)]Those of us who work in the military environment have been concerned for some time about the potential of terrorist attacks against our nation. I must admit, however, that the attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon left me in a state of shock. I had watched CNN as the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center'it was surreal. About 45 minutes later, I was evacuating the Pentagon. It was later in the day, as I watched the news clips, and then as I drove to the still-burning Pentagon early on Sept. 12, that the enormity of the devastation fully set in. It was clear that the world that I knew was forever changed.

Priorities within the Air Force changed quickly. Support for rescue operations, protection of our physical and cyber assets, supporting the deployment of forces, and defense of American airspace became the priority tasks.

Overnight, well-established measures for evaluating acceptable risk changed. Personally, I became concerned that we might experience attacks on our cyberinfrastructure; information-based systems to support intelligence and precise weapons delivery were clear priorities.

I felt strengthened by the selfless actions of the many rescue and relief workers, most of them quietly observing that they were only doing their jobs. I have new respect for those who protect us in our daily routines, including those dressed in black and sporting automatic weapons who block my entrance to the Pentagon until I produce acceptable identification.

I have also become more sympathetic to the plight of those in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world who have dealt with terrorism as a daily threat.

Finally, I see the terrible tragedy as an opportunity to reclaim America's core beliefs and values and to extend their benefits worldwide. In the end, I see the real possibility that the good flowing from the attacks will overshadow the tragedy.

John Gilligan is deputy assistant secretary for business and information management at the Air Force.

BOBBY MILLS

[IMGCAP(7)]As a kid, I grew up with textbooks and teachers' explanations-and my imagination-of what Americans experienced during the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the world wars, Vietnam and the like. But all the social studies classes in the world would not have prepared me for Sept. 11.

That day started off like any other. I kissed my wife goodbye and told her that I loved her, parked in my usual Pentagon parking space, joked with my co-workers.

At 8:50 a.m., I grabbed my notebook and charged off to meet my colleagues on the fifth floor of the Pentagon-E ring, third corridor-for a Defense Department public-key infrastructure training session. When I arrived we started talking about the plane crash. Then we got word of the second World Trade Center crash. We couldn't believe what we were hearing. Within 5 minutes, we heard a loud boom. All of us looked up at the ceiling in utter silence. I tried to analyze what we heard. Suddenly, someone yelled, "Get out! There's a fire!"

We grabbed what we could and dashed through the Pentagon. While running, I saw people in distress with drywall on their clothes and blood streaming from their heads. I still had no idea of what had just happened. I felt like a rat in a maze. A lot of us thought our lives were over when we were exiting the Pentagon's North exit area because the guard screamed, "Get back, another plane is coming!"

We took it literally. I sprained my foot running away from danger.

The attack immediately caused me a personal Government Paperwork Elimination Act because I lost all papers when fleeing for my life.

More importantly, Sept. 11 has caused me to reflect and appreciate my rights as an American. I've gained a new sense of appreciation for my personal relationships as well as my work relationships. As I drive into work every morning, I look at the red, white and blue on the Pentagon reservation's flagpole and say to myself, "God bless the U.S.A."

Bobby Mills works in the policy branch of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense.

C.D. JACKSON

[IMGCAP(8)]I worked in the World Trade Center complex [in Building 6] but was on vacation on the day of the attacks. I watched television in horror as the events unfolded, and I feared for the well-being of my colleagues. Fortunately, none of my co-workers were physically harmed by the attacks, but my work site was damaged. These events heightened my awareness of how tenuous life is.

My division has been relocated in different sites throughout New York City. Each day I experience the disorienting change of getting on the subway and realizing that I have to take a different route to work.

Seeing Ground Zero in person for the first time after the attacks was particularly traumatic. Visiting the area where I worked for so long and witnessing the utter devastation forever altered my sense of normalcy. I wonder if I will ever regain a sense of order.

The support structure in my division was nothing short of extraordinary. One positive aspect of this tragedy is that I have come to realize that I am not alone in my personal and professional life. Co-workers and family have been there to lend a listening ear or convey comforting words.

In the aftermath of the attacks, I often find myself considering how I can do more to contribute, both personally and professionally. Have I done enough to make a difference?

Over a short period of time I have seen the good and the bad that humanity has to offer. I have come to appreciate friends and colleagues more and the so-called "little things" in life. Out of great tragedy, the goodness in people that I knew was always there has surfaced through the work of the volunteers I have seen throughout the city. I have learned to appreciate the best of human nature.

C.D. Jackson is a computer specialist in the New York Field Division of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

CHARLES DE SANNO

[IMGCAP(9)]I was on my way to work on Sept. 11, a perfect late summer day. I was traveling to a site in New Jersey when I heard of the first explosion at the World Trade Center on my car radio. When I heard that there was a second explosion at the other tower, I knew it was a terror attack.

I turned my car around and headed for the Veterans Health Care System's central data center in one of the boroughs of New York City. I knew I would be needed there.

On the way, I witnessed a sight that will be etched in my mind forever. As I approached the New Jersey Outer Bridge crossing, I saw that Port Authority Police had closed the bridge. People were outside of their vehicles staring in horror. The bridge offers a perfect view of the New York skyline, and as I stumbled out of my car, I saw the twin towers burning. I was sickened.

I knew I would not be able to get to work, so I turned around and headed home.

When I arrived home, I ran to my home office to connect with the VA e-mail system and began to communicate with the staff. I instituted our emergency disaster plan and ensured that additional backups of our data were at off-site locations. I obtained a health report on our data network: All was fine.

It was obvious by midday that the biggest problem I would face would be ensuring that the staff could communicate and continue to serve veterans. Phone traffic problems made it difficult to get a voice call through, so we worked late into the night to make sure our connections to the VA wide area network stayed up and running.

We eventually lost one of our twelve network connections, but because of the redundancy we had built into our architecture, we continued normal operation.

Charles De Sanno is CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department's New York/New Jersey Veterans Health Care System, based in the Bronx, N.Y.

LYNDEN ARMSTRONG

[IMGCAP(10)]As I sit with six of my colleagues in an office designed for one, I consider how many things changed after the events of Sept. 11.

Suddenly, we were faced with the real possibility of being the target of a similar terrorist attack. We were not prepared for anything remotely close to this kind of emergency situation.

We immediately began developing our own emergency procedures and deciding how we would recover if a similar situation occurred at the Capitol complex.

Our plans changed when a letter containing anthrax was discovered in the Hart Senate Office Building. We were told that the Hart Building would be shut down temporarily as a precaution. More than two months later, we still don't have access to our office, our files, our computer equipment or what we left on our desks-priority items at that point in time.

We were assigned temporary office space in three offices: the senator's Capitol hideaway, the Minority Budget Committee offices and an office that Sen. George Allen's (R-Va.) chief of staff graciously moved out of so that we would have some working space.

With the staff spread out, the only thing keeping us communicating has been e-mail. It was always considered an invaluable tool but has become even more important to us now.

Contacts with constituents likewise have changed. We've gone from a time when postal mail was considered the most effective way to communicate with elected officials to a situation where electronic mail is the only way to communicate.

Meanwhile, we've had to borrow CPUs, monitors and software from a number of offices to piece together a computing environment we could work in.

It has been a very challenging experience for the entire Senate. We have had to put aside our own fears to do the jobs that we were hired to do with limited resources. I, for one, will never take for granted the environment I used to have and, I hope, will again.

Lynden Armstrong serves as administrative and systems director for the Washington office of Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).

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