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Ten Years After: Recollections of 9/11

While drafting up my own memories of Sept. 11, 2001, I reached out to a few readers about their experiences and thoughts about the aftermath. What is your recollection of that day that will live in infamy?

David Lawless, Senior Vice President, Magna Carta Companies (New York)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I bumped into David Ishibashi a good friend of mine at the train station in Westchester, just north of Manhattan. We rode in together to Grand Central station and walked downstairs to the subway. Because we were still talking about politics, we let the subway train go by.

Letting the train go by was a moment of fate for my friend, who worked at the World Trade Center. After we said goodbye, he took the express train downtown, as he was anxious to get to work because at that point we were both running late. Just as he emerged from the subway onto the street, he witnessed the first plane strike. He quickly ducked behind the corner of a building as shards of metal and glass fell from the sky. Seconds later when he emerged from around the corner the ground was covered with debris and the people across the street were bleeding.

I arrived at my midtown office as on any other morning. We knew something was wrong when I got upstairs because my co-workers and I could see a tremendous amount of smoke bellowing up from the southern end of Manhattan. We somehow learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC. Scrambling to get on the Internet to learn more, we heard on a local radio broadcast that there was a second strike. Our Chairman decided whatever the cause of these events it was best to quickly close the office and instruct people to get home, because we knew the transit systems would be very shortly overloaded or shut down.

As it turned out, many people couldn't get home because the few trains that were running were overcrowded and many bridges and tunnels were closed. Some commuters returned to the office. The city became eerily quiet. Throughout the day and into the evening throngs of people were walking north up Park Avenue, some perfectly dressed, others covered with white ash walking in bare feet.

By late morning we could see and hear fighter jets flying over Manhattan traveling very low near the rooftops of the buildings, patrolling the city.

As the day progressed, and the towers collapsed, I was certain that my friend had been killed. It wasn't until that night that I learned from my wife that David was OK. Our friendly conversation on the subway platform had possibly saved his life.

A few weeks after 9/11, one of our longtime producers, Mort Aron, owner of the Danross Agency, told us that his office had been destroyed as a result of the collapse of the towers and that he didn't know what to do. Within a couple of days we gave him office space, phones and some new computers that had been slated to go out to one of our branch offices. He was able to reestablish his business and was with us for well over a year before opening a new office location.

Like all Americans the events of September 11th have had profound affected on us and something we are not likely to forget. It also has had an effect on insurers. We have always done geographic exposure analysis for natural disasters like hurricane, tornados, and fire. However since Sept 11th, we now use terms like NBCR (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological) and do additional exposure models for these types of events.

Because of the scale of man-made events a federal backstop for insurance claims related to acts of terrorism called TRIA was enacted by Congress. The program has since be renamed TRIP and it provides business' the confidence that their insurance claims will be paid.

I think that the insurance industry as a whole remains largely unchanged, financially strong and responsive to disasters of all types.

Matthew Josefowicz, Partner and Managing Director, Novarica (New York)

On 9/11/01, I was on the F Train in Brooklyn headed into my midtown office. From the elevated tracks over Cobble Hill, I could see both towers smoking. The train was stopped in downtown Brooklyn, and I didn't realize what had happened until my wife reached me on my mobile and told me. I walked home to Park Slope to stare at the TV in disbelief and email friends to see if they were safe. That night, our neighborhood gathered at our local firehouse, which had lost more than half its squad.

Although it was the furthest thing from my mind on that day and the weeks that followed, there was definitely a new focus on business continuity planning that we started to see in our client inquiries from CIOs the following month. Companies started to plan not just for the loss of records or transactional capabilities or buildings, but also for the loss of key staff and their institutional knowledge.

Robert Fullington, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives and Acquisitions, Fortegra Financial (Jacksonville, Fla.)

I was actually in the air when the 9/11 attacks happened. I was flying to Dallas for Credit Insurance Conference.

We were perhaps 15 minutes from landing and the pilot came on the intercom and said, "We'll be landing in Dallas but we have to get down quickly -- there's been a national emergency."

When we arrived at the airport it was empty. Imagine nobody in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport -- it was like a Steven King novel. As soon as I had the opportunity, I got on my cell phone to call my wife. What had gone through my head since the pilot made the announcement about a national emergency was we had been nuked by someone, or something along those lines. What else would it be? My first thought was my family and what a terrible time this was to be away: here I am over thousand miles away, and bad things are going to happen.

Some people were unable to get to the conference, as you can imagine, but it went on as scheduled. Of course, as it was going on, we all paid a lot of attention to developing events. Once the conference was over, my boss called said, "If you can't find a rental car, just buy a car and we'll sell it when you get back."

The odd thing is that I had no interruption of my schedule whatsoever. I had a flight that made it to its destination. I had a hotel, I had flight back. In fact, my flight was literally one of the first scheduled planes out of Dallas, and it took off on schedule.

From my perspective, the experience of 9/11 was less the events of the day -- which were remote from where I was -- but how that day changed the way we operate as a country, in various ways. There's been a loss of personal freedom. I can remember in the time before 9/11 when I lived in Upstate New York and the airport was in Burlington, Vermont. You could greet a friend walking down the steps of an arriving airplane. You couldn't get that close today. Of course there are surveillance cameras everywhere today as well. It's unfortunate that a group of people decided to do what they did and changed what we represent as a country.

Sam Friedman, Insurance Leader, Deloitte Research (New York)

9/11 is my generation's Pearl Harbor, but for me it wasn't something you read about in history books or watched on news footage. 9/11 was a very personal assault, given that I was working and living very close to Ground Zero, as well as covering the insurance industry, which played such an important role in the aftermath of the attacks.

In the hours, days and months that followed 9/11, I wrote and edited hundreds of articles about the tragedy -- not just in terms of the billions of dollars in claims that were being paid, but also about the lives lost among those working in the business. Disputes over coverage arose, but ultimately I think the industry did itself proud in providing the capital to help Lower Manhattan recover and become the thriving community it is today.

As Insurance Leader at Deloitte Research , I have an office in the World Financial Center that overlooks the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site. One of the footprints, now a waterfall, is directly below my window. What (and especially who) was lost on 9/11 can never be replaced with new buildings or monuments, but what can never be lost is our perseverance and determination to rebuild and to live our lives on our own terms. Being a witness to history is a privilege I never take for granted.

Anthony O'Donnell, Executive Editor, Insurance & Technology

The day started with frustration at missing a train in Landing, N.J., followed by difficulty finding parking at the Dover, N.J. station. Normally at my desk around 7:00 a.m., I had planned to arrive later than usual because I had scheduled an after-hours meeting with Tony Candito, then MetLife's CIO of Individual Business. However, I hadn't intended to be this late. As it turned out, it wasn't a bad thing.

A little later, on the commuter train, I heard it said that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. It was a spectacularly clear day, so either the pilot had a heart attack or it was deliberate. In my mind's eye I pictured a small single-engine plane. Then nearby passenger on a cell phone said a second plane had struck. There was no question now that it was deliberate. For some reason I still pictured small aircraft.

Moments later I got a call from Greg MacSweeney, then managing editor of Insurance & Technology. Calling from our office, then at 50th Street and 3rd Avenue, he asked me where I was and whether I'd heard what happened. He also clarified events. He and some colleagues had gone down to a bar to see a TV. Knowledgeable about commercial aviation because of his father's career in that industry, he assured me that the planes in question were airliners. The event suddenly took on a horrific, surreal quality.

The train's intercom announced that the World Trade Center station had been close, and passengers who were going to switch at the Summit station could stay on to Penn Station. No further information. A short time later, passengers were told that the train would not continue to New York, and that all passengers would have to disembark at the next stop and wait for a westbound train.

Once news that the Pentagon had been hit, the thought was "this is war." It was a grim restless crowd that stood on the platform of a suburban New Jersey train station on an incongruously beautiful early September day. News came that one of the towers had fallen. What could that even mean? Did it tip over? If so, what kind of damage must it have caused? Later we heard of the second tower coming down. The two-plane attack was disturbing enough; the notion that these two giant towers were obliterated and their environs in ruins, was a gut punch.

On the westbound train my wife reached me on my cell phone after much trying. She was anxious about my safety, of course, and wanted me to get home as soon as possible, in case further destruction were to happen. Rumors of further attacks in Washington, D.C., spread on the plane. I also spoke to one of my brothers about how the world might change, including how terrorism would likely no longer be tolerated and excused the way it had been. Looking back now, the world hasn't change as much as I had hoped.

After a couple of eerie days during which no planes littered the New Jersey skies, I was back in New York. On the first day, I took a walk at lunchtime. I encountered two bomb scares in process, the second one involving a female NYC police officer nervously shouting directions to pedestrians. The grounds of the United Nations was blocked by giant concrete barriers. That day our office closed early, as did many others. Getting home was difficult. On the way to the Port Authority a young friend said that he felt impotent, not being able to do anything to help or fight back. A jovial working guy we passed said to a companion, "Kill them all and let Allah sort them out!"

In the days and weeks that followed, the atmosphere in New York was a mixture of deep sadness and warm solidarity. Everywhere one walked, there were firehouses festooned with memorials to the dead, many of them created by school children. For weeks, afterwards, acrid smoke continued to pour from the hole where the World Trade Center had been, visible from the bend in the road on the New Jersey side where traffic enters the Lincoln Tunnel.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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