On 9-11-2001, I was the House Chair of the Government Regulations Committee in the Massachusetts Legislature. As I did every morning, I would get into my office early to read the papers, sort through the mail, review schedule for the day etc. I liked getting in early while it was quiet to get ready for the day’s activities. 9/11 was no different and I was going through papers with the radio on listening to music when an announcer came on and said that it appeared that a plane struck the World Trade Center in New York. I thought that was odd because the Trade Center wasn’t in a flight path. I had been to the World Trade Center many times because that was the Eastern Region offices of the Council of State Governments (CSG), a national organization for state officials. I was on track to be the national Chair and had served as Chair of a regional trade group we had started. Their offices were in a low rise building at the World Trade Center.
I turned on a TV in my office and as the news came on, I watched as a plane hit the tower and thought that it was odd that they caught the moment the plane hit. It took me a moment to realize that I was watching as the second plane hit the South Tower and that both towers were burning. I couldn’t believe this, and I called a friend of mine, a former Legislator who was in Canada at an airport conference to see if he knew that this had happened. He was also active with CSG. He answered right away and said that he was aware and that the planes has taken off from Boston. He said many officials from Boston were with him and that he would call when he knew more info but that they thought that there were more planes in the air not responding to traffic control and that we were under attack.
After I hung up with him, I tried to call the CSG offices, but it was impossible to get through to anyone as the lines were inundated with calls. I next called home to the Berkshires to talk with the family to tell them what I knew. By this time, reports were coming in that a third plane had hit the Pentagon and it was clear that this was an attack on America. I called the Speaker of the House to tell him what I knew. I then called the Independent System Operator (ISO) for our New England Power Grid to see if they were taking action. I should explain that the Committee on Government Regulations was responsible for any legislation or oversight on any regulated industry in Massachusetts. We had worked on electric restructuring legislation with the ISO several years before. We had no idea during this first hour whether this was a broad attack on America, and I felt that given the importance of our electric system and its vulnerabilities, I should call. They had already taken action, transferring operations to an undisclosed site and had taken down the signs on the buildings to make it harder to identify in case of a threat.
After that, I received a call from my friend saying that there were more planes in the air and that flight traffic had been stopped. He said that airport officials from all over the country were in Canada and that they were stranded there without flights to come home. Listening to news reports in Boston, there was all sorts of speculation including a report from outside a hotel that suspected terrorists were at. The report turned to to be false, but the fact that Flights 11 and 175 had taken off from Logan Airport in Boston had people in a panic and security alert. In those hours, we weren’t sure if there were more flights or if there would be ground attacks. Rumors were rampant.
After trying again to reach the CSG offices and watching both the North and South Towers collapse, I decided that I would travel back to the Berkshires to be with my family. As I drove back, I listened to reports of what was going on, the devastation in New York, the Pentagon crash and then the downing of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. By the time I got home, flights were all grounded and it appeared that the attacks were over.
Shortly thereafter, I received a call from the folks at CSG letting me know that they were all safe. But we were left with a feeling of helplessness and horror over these attacks on our soil.
Shortly after the events of 9/11, we started to reform our systems to institute more security protocols at essential infrastructure. The US created an office of Homeland Security. The largest governmental nonprofits in the US such as CSG petitioned the federal government to participate in planning within Homeland Security. Tom Ridge, the new head of Homeland Security agreed, and I was appointed as a Representative of CSG to participate. This resulted in plans to strengthen our security and safety in the US
Twenty years later we are still feeling the effects of these attacks. Airport security has made it more difficult to fly. We have just exited a 20-year war in Afghanistan. We have hardened infrastructure and beefed-up security around offices throughout the US. A whole generation is now growing up that never knew the safety felt before 9/11. It continues to impact our country and our world view.
A few weeks after 9/11, I visited the World Trade Center site. Where magnificent buildings once stood was a horrifying hole in the ground. I walked up the street and stopped into Moran’s bar. It was an Irish bar almost right across from the police station where many of the first responders came from. As I sat there, I could hear quiet conversations from off duty police. They =were real heroes that day and every day on the job.
It is important that we remember that day. We live in a world
where sound bites last milliseconds. Where our attention span lasts a few days
until the next big thing comes along. We need to understand that feeling of
national unity we had in the days that followed 9/11. We need to honor those
who protect that freedom, and we need to understand the world we live in and
our role in it. Mostly, we need to understand each other and embrace those
things that unite us rather than the politics of division and polarization that
are so prevalent today.
Time numbs us and memories fade, but we owe it to those people who died that day that we remain united. That is our responsibility as Americans.