Sunday, September 11, 2011

What If...? If Only...

There is something that has always bothered me about the events on 9/11. When the North Tower was first hit by an airplane, the loudspeaker in the South Tower could clearly be heard telling people to stay where they were. I have often wondered who made that decision, and moreover, why they made it. Isn't preparedness half the battle? So many more lives could have been saved if there had been an orderly evacuation of both towers as soon as the first plane hit. Perhaps if there are any lessons to be learned from 9/11, this is one of them.

Where I work, we have regular seminars in every aspect of emergency preparedness, from earthquakes and fires, to chemical spills, possible terrorist attacks (we have containment level 3 laboratories), to the possibility of violence from clients or co-workers. Nothing is left to chance.

In the past few days there have been several documentaries on television, covering the events of 9/11.  It has reminded me what a huge tragedy that event was.  The people who lost their lives were just ordinary folks like all of us; they got up in the morning, brushed their teeth, had their morning coffee and went to work ~~ one of the places we all consider safe.  And like all of us, they relied on the decisions of other people to keep them safe.  But someone made a very unfortunate decision that day ~~ "Stay where you are...You are safe.".  As it turned out, the South Tower was the first to fall.  Would anyone have know it was also going to be hit by a plane?  Probably not.  Should they have anticipated that, under the circumstances, something else was going to happen?  Yes.  That is part of the decision-make process.

I do feel very bad for whomever made that decision.  It's something they are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives.  What if...?  If only...


kenju said...

I suspect they were among the dead, and have had a lot of time to reflect on that fateful decision. I also hope that people who work in super-tall buildings will not heed the next idiot who make the same decision.

myletterstoemily said...

i'm sure that person, if he survived, has been
tormented every day since. i'm also sure
that the procedure has been drastically
changed. we learn so many things the hard

Deedee said...

There are so many questions of that nature still swirling around that terrible day. I would like to think that if I had been in one of those buildings, I would have heeded my own intuition and gotten out, or at least died trying instead of being trapped like so many were. But who knows what we'd do unless we are actually in the moment?

Kym said...

That would be a tormenting reminder daily that one would have to live with knowing they announced others to stay where they were, that they were safe....but at the time, how was anyone to know that the towers were going to cousin got out of there safely that day unlike many others because they did not want to stay and see what was going to happen...with the panic and chaos I am sure no one knew what the outcome was going to be like.....

Shelly Rayedeane said...

Even if the individual who made that statement made the choice to tell people to leave the building instead, the same result would of happened due to the overload on the truncated communication system for the 911 line.

Sad to say, confusion would have happened anyway.

JeannetteLS said...

Have all these drills been happening since before 9/11? I don't mean that glibly at all. I think that we had been so insular in our thinking for so long, that it may not have truly registered to that person what was happening for real. Look at our lack of airport security long after others had grown more careful. By the sixties we most definitely had that "it can't happen here" attitude. The people in power over the last decade were too young to truly remember Pearl Harbor. I vaguely remember "duck and cover" and I am nearly sixty.

I think one of our biggest problems was highlighted in our immediate statement that "THE WORLD has changed with 9/11." No. The world already knew the danger. The wars we started changed the world; the attacks changed OUR world VIEW. The cliché "hindsight is 20/20" is a cliché for good reason, I think.

The degree of panic and disbelief here, that this could possibly be happening in NYC and Washington slowed many people down. Even watching the attacks didn't compute or sink in for some... not right away. Furthermore, perhaps it was an attempt to keep people calm. Preparedness is good; panic is not.

We'll never understand all that went on in those towers. It's easy to blame whoever made that decision. I doubt that an orderly exit would have happened in those circumstances... not here, not then.

I will stick to blaming the terrorists, and to blaming our long-standing blindness to the fact that we could be attacked as easily as anyone else--more easily, back then. It's horrifying. By the way, it would not surprise me at ALL if the answer to your question is that Canada has been doing the drills for decades.

@ly said...

When the earthquake hit ...two weeks ago....I was not in the office but was told many people stayed in the office. A few smart ones evacuated. If I were there...I would of went running. The minute our fire alarm goes off...I am literally one of the first ones out the door and I am on the 14th floor! I run...I run...I run! 9/11 taught me to EVACUATE!

Jo said...

Judy, well, I would have just left the building, and I do hope there are people who did that. I would have wanted to get as far away as possible.

Lea, I think a lot of lessons were learned that day, yes. Unfortunately, we do learn lessons the hard way, and too many have to pay those hard lessons.

DeeDee, my intuition would have told me to get out too, but I guess a lot of people wait for instructions. It's human nature. Most people don't want to make their own decisions, and get into trouble.

Kym, your cousin was not only fortunate, but was also very, very smart. I'm so glad he/she? survived...! I hope there were many more people who did the same thing.

Jeanette, oh, goodness, I'm not blaming anyone. I'm just saying that, tactically, the buildings should have been evacuated. They had already been bombed by Al-Qaeda in February 1993, and the purpose of that bomb was to knock the North Tower into the South Tower. In that attack, six people were killed and 1,042 people were injured. So 2001 wasn't the first attack on the buildings. And yes, we have been doing fire drills for decades, and also earthquake drills because this is an earthquake region. Terrorist drills are new, but terrorism has been around long before 9/11.

Jo said...

@ly, we have earthquake kits in our desks at work, and are drilled on how to use them, and where to go if an earthquake hits. Unfortunately, Vancouver is a city of a lot of bridges, so we are aware that we may not get home and be able to get to our families if an earthquake does hit and buildings and bridges are destroyed. Our earthquake kits have food, water and thermal blankets.

Alicia said...

Hindsight is 20/20. You make the best decision you can at the time and just hope it's the best one.

I think we learned a lot from the events that happened that day. I wish we could still be naive and innocent but terrorism opened the eyes of all Americans and we realize that we're not exempt from terrorist attacks.

It's so sad to know that our children and grandchildren are not growing up with the same sense of innocence I grew up with.

Paula said...

Thanks for your post, Jo. You mention the bridges. One of the most unforgettable pictures, for me, of that day is the scene of people filling the Brooklyn Bridge, shoulder to shoulder, trying to walk home.

Katy said...

I wonder if they were worried about adding to the chaos. Thinking they needed to minimize the number of people flooding into the streets.

You have to remember that on that day, know one thought a second plane was going to hit the second tower and no one knew the buildings would fall.

I have no idea what I would have done that day.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Yesterday I read a news story about a man who defied the orders to stay put and helped hundreds of people to safety, sending them down multiple stairways by twos. He did not make it out because he intended to be the last to go, but he called his wife to tell her that if anything should happen to him, he had never been happier (than he was with her.)Not everyone meekly followed bad directions.

Leslie: said...

I have not been able to watch any of the TV coverage today, nor read any of the newspaper coverage. It is just too painful even to this day for me - and I lost no one! It was such a tragedy and I feel for everyone who was touched by this event.

Jo said...

Shelly, I think they could have evacuated the South Tower over the Tower's loudspeakers, rather than telling folks that they were safe and to stay put. They were in imminent danger.

Alicia, terrorism has been with us for a long time. The problem is, it had never happened on that scale on North American soil. And yes, it has robbed a lot of people of their innocence, and that is how terrorism works. 9/11 is still with us.

Paula, yes, that image is people walking across the bridges is one I will never forget either. New York is such a wonderful city, it was just heartbreaking to see what had happened to it that day.

Katy, I think they could have evacuated in an orderly fashion. They have to take those things into consideration when they build those huge buildings. What would they do in the event of an evacuation? Hindsight is also foresight and their foresight should have told them that bad things were happening, and to get the heck out of Dodge as fast as possible.

Susan, yes, I read about that fellow, and I saw a story about him in a documentary on TV. He was a true hero. And all the time in the background you could hear the loudspeakers telling people to stay in their offices.

Leslie, yes, it is painful to watch. My other friend Lesl(ey) knew people in the Windows on the World Restaurant, and all she could say was, "Oh sh*t, oh sh*t"

DJan said...

I am just now catching up on reading yesterday's posts. I too am glad that not everybody follows orders blindly.

Kimberly said...

I would have abandoned my desk, office, cubie & convinced as many as I could that we should vacate NOW. Your survivor instincts - I believe we call that our gut feeling - should have taken over.

Jo said...

Djan, yes, the people who didn't follow orders were probably the ones who got out in time.

Kimblerly, you and I think alike. It was fairly obvious that the second tower was in imminent danger, even if just from fire and debris from the first one. How on earth would anyone decide to stay put? It has always bothered me, when I heard those loudspeaker announcements.

Mia said...

Had the first strike been an accident it would have been dangerously irresponsible to evacuate the second tower while rescue workers were trying to do their job at the first tower. Imagine trying to get hundreds of people out of a very large burning building while hundreds of people are exiting an equally large building only meters away.

Had they known it was an attack they could have done things differently. But had they been prepared for an attack they might have prevented it.

Being prepared for an earthquake in an area that has frequent earthquakes isn't the same as being prepared for something that nobody ever thinks will happen.

Paula said...

Mia, there is something to what you say. A woman from my town visiting NYC that day accidentally took a pair of pictures that have become very famous. This first shows the first tower smoking in the background when they still thought it could be an accident, with a plane passing by silhouetted against the second tower. The second shot shows the second tower with a fireball against it. The point at which we knew for sure it was deliberate.

Jo said...

Mia, that begs the question then, why do developers build these huge towers and put people in them if evacuation is dangerous? The attack on the North Tower was the second attack (the first being in 1993). Every living soul should have been evacuated at the first hint of any danger, accidental or otherwise. In hindsight, that has proven to be true.

Paula, I have seen those pictures, and they are amazing...!

We have five office towers in Vancouver (the Bentall Buildings) that are side by side with a plaza between them and a mall and subway station beneath them. If something violent happens to one of them the policy is to evacuate them all. Of course, they are only 35 stories each, not 100. But 35 x 5 is 175 floors of people to evacuate.

I still feel someone made an error in judgment.

Paula said...

Growing up in western Arkansas, raised "on the ground" in a single family home, renting apartments in two story buildings as a young married, doing business in no building over eight stories, I have to admit that the whole NYC skyscraper thing freaks me out if I think about it. The possible consequences of living or working in the upper floors of those things if anything, anything at all, goes wrong creeps me out.

I do love to look at aerial photography of NYC, or anyplace else, for that matter.

Jo said...

Paula, LOL...! I totally agree...! My daughter and I went to the World Trade Centers, but we sat in the plaza outside and *people-watched* There was no way I was taking an elevator up 110 floors. No, thenk yew. *heh*

We did go to the lovely Trinity Church nearby, where the rescue workers rested during their search and recovery. The man who wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is buried there. It's an absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous area of New York.

JeannetteLS said...

You are so right, Jo--the attacks have been around since long before 9/11. I know you aren't blaming anyone--I think I was responding to a comment or two in there. I think I was looking at why someone might have responded with "you're safe." So much of how we have been taught to respond in a crisis is to be calm. Don't start running or do anything rash--but, because this country has somehow felt we could never be attacked, I think that it probably seemed surreal to people on site, in those crucial first minutes when people might have been evacuated. We never get attacked. It's not happening. And IF ONLY we had been more realistic, more tuned in to the fact that we are part of a WORLD in which these things happened, drills would have been regular. The response of evacuation might have been more automatic.

... but it wasnt.

If only. (But I know your writing enough to realize you weren't doing that. I was not clear. Sorry.)

It's another day. I should focus on some other things, huh!

Mia said...

Evacuating thousands of people at once is inherently dangerous. That's why God invented safety drills. But no drills will ever compensate for the panic and chaos during an emergency.

The attack in '93 was from a truck bomb. That's what everybody expected and that's what they guarded against. Nobody was prepared for an airplane strike. Hijackers used to reroute to remote locations before killing hostages and blowing up planes before this point.

Had it been a truck bomb they probably would have evacuated everybody immediately. Evacuating everybody at the first hint of any danger is very dangerous for several reasons.

I think the error in judgment was in poor preparation, not in how the people in charge handled the day. I'd say they did a pretty remarkable job. Imagine if the people in charge after Hurricane Katrina had been in charge at the World Trade Center.

Jo said...

Jeanette, in hindsight, we know now it was an attack. At the time, folks thought it was a horrific accident. But because those towers are so close to each other, risk-management should have known that, under the circumstances, things were going to get worse before they got better, whatever was happening. That's why I thought it was unfortunate that the loud speakers were telling people they were safe, when in fact they were in imminent danger.

Mia, if I were in a highrise building, and a plane (accidentally or on purpose) hit the building next to me, I would assume that things are going to progress ~~ fire and other dangers. If I had been in charge of the folks in the South Tower, I would have told people to leave as quickly as possible, in as orderly a fashion as possible. Half of the survival tactics in any situation is being pro-active, not just reactive. On the Evacuation Preparedness Guide website, they state (regarding 9/11) "Their chances of surviving could have significantly improved if evacuation plans had been in place."

There is a very intersting report called "The study of Occupant Behavior During the World Trade Center Evacuation - Preliminary Report of Results." The folks who took it upon themselves to get the heck out of Dodge were saved.

Anyway, it sounds here as if I am blaming someone, and I am not. Hopefully lessons were learned that day.