OF THE PEOPLE

Day of infamy, day of fear, day of determination

Ira Hobbs

Call it a Day of Infamy. Call it a Day from Hell. Whatever you call it, that Tuesday will be a day each of us will remember for the rest of our lives. It will be a day that changed our lives in ways that remain to be determined, the day when our nation was violently attacked in the most despicable way imaginable.

That day brought death to thousands of Americans, and destruction to some of our most revered and cherished institutions in New York and Washington. It brought tragedy to those directly touched by the violence, those who lost family members, co-workers and friends.

But Sept. 11 also brought crisis to people across the country, who evacuated buildings, closed schools and rushed home to be with loved ones. This phenomenon was especially intense in Washington and especially for federal employees, who knew that key government buildings'the Capitol, the White House and the Pentagon'were potential assault targets.

That blast at the Pentagon could be heard for miles. It was so loud that everyone in federal buildings in Washington knew that something catastrophic was occurring. Understandably, fear initially gripped our city and inhabitants of agency buildings.

In these circumstances, many federal employees had to overcome their own fears and keep the essential functions of government running. And there was much to fear'for one's personal safety, for family, and for colleagues and friends. As the disaster unfolded, the first instinct was to get people out of buildings. The second was to get in touch with loved ones if communications systems permitted.

And then, many of us had to focus on the job at hand. But things were different than before. Perhaps because of the gravity of the situation, people bonded with others around them. There were none of the usual petty arguments that sometimes mar the workplace. People rallied together, sharing information, discussing options, thinking with one another.

Egos were set aside. Turf battles were suspended. Although adrenaline was high, the emotions and excitement of the early moments soon gave way to a calm and determined resolve to make it through.

Across the government, from security guards to executives in command centers, people focused on doing their jobs, and doing them well. They did them together. For those awful hours, all across government, people essentially formed high-performance teams that became far more than the sum of their individual efforts.

Federal employees excelled. When it was over'at least when that terrible day ended'everyone finally realized how exhausted they truly were. I know I did.

But beyond the exhaustion, I was also filled with a strong sense of national pride. Proud to serve in our government. Proud to be an American. Proud to be in a nation where people will pull together in crisis, where people will sacrifice and serve.

In my very first column for GCN, I wrote that I went to work for the government many years ago because I wanted to serve, to do some good. After Sept. 11, I feel that way even more.

Ira Hobbs is acting CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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