Friday, September 9, 2011

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

On September 11, 2001, I was at my desk on the 9th floor of a building in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, 27th Street and 7th Avenue, where I was provost of an academic institution with 12,000 students.

As I worked in my quiet office, I became aware of a lot of commotion in the hallway and asked my assistant what was going on. She told me she had heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

With other members of the staff, I walked out onto our 9th floor terrace and saw smoke rising from the twin towers, 30 blocks away. We went inside and turned on the television, watching with the rest of the world as another plane hit the twin towers. It was clear that this was no accident.

As Chief Academic Officer of this university, my immediate task was to establish a crisis management protocol to ensure the security of our college community. I asked the staff to turn on all the TVs in our large auditorium, where our students and staff gathered to witness the events of the day together in relative safety.

Outside, there were hundreds of people walking like zombies through our stricken city. Bridges and tunnels had been closed down. Manhattan was like a military zone.

Because cell phones were not working, we offered our landlines to students and staff so they could let their families know they were all right. It was about midnight when my staff and I determined that our work for the day was done and that we could safely go home.

The lessons of that day will last a lifetime. From an administrative perspective, we have learned to do things much better in the area of crisis management. I have learned to meet crisis with calmness, logic, planning and pragmatism.

And personally, I have learned how important it is to let our families know how much they mean to us, and to understand, as well, how important we are to them. As we mark the 10th anniversary of this life-changing event, please share your stories of September 11, 2001.


Dario A. Cortes, PhD
Berkeley College


  1. On that horrific day I was still a highschool student, as yet untouched by world events. I was in my third period U.S. history class when students and teachers began to swarm the hallways. I remember one of my classmates jokingly said there is a bomb threat on our school. If only it were that. Parents began to call the school to ask for their children to be let out early so they may pick them up. I remember thinking they would not have traffic to contend with because the FDR drive, which ran behind my school was eerily empty. En masse, we all left the school and went to stores and houses in the area to watch the events unfold on the t.v. I was just in time to witness the second plane striking the untouched tower. I remeber feeling like I was watching a movie because I could not wrap my mind around the possibility that New York was actually under attack. It took a few minutes for it to sink in that this was really happening in real time and the next thing I knew the first tower collapsed. I was stuck in the city that night and stayed at a friends house where we held a candle light vigil for all of the families and loved ones who were affected or lost that day. Even ten years later it is still surreal that the towers are gone. I didn't venture downtown for quite some time after because I could not bear to see the gap in the skyline and be reminded that where my feet trod, people lost their lives. I intern at The New York Times and there is a tribute in the lobby that consists of some of the award winning pictures taken that day and of the aftershock events after. I pass it and think of the unfairness of it all that we live in a world of such turmoil. Now that I have a child, I too live with the fear that something could happen to myself or his father because we are doing what parents do, providing a life for him. I pray that nothing so traumatic ever touches his life and I hope that the families affected will be at peace one day. September 11th was the day that I grew up.

    Posted by Shari Watson

  2. I'll never forget that day. I had left my position at Berkeley the previous week and was attending a National Meeting with my new company in the city. When the first plane hit we thought it was a horrific accident and when the second hit we of course knew it was something far worse. Everything came to a standstill and everyone's attention shifted to #1 - letting loved ones know we were OK and #2 - getting information about what was happening.

    It took hours to get home waiting on line for a ferry and then hours more in traffic to get to home. Once I got home the enormity of what had happened began to sink in. The world was forever changed.

  3. Anonymous said:
    I was hospitalized in Manhattan prior to September 11th and was still there when the tragedy occurred. I was being walked into an examination room when the first plane had hit. My nurse and I delayed watching the television, but then I had to go, and when I was done, the second plane had hit, and the hospital staff murmured about whether or not they needed to evacuate the patients. I always remember the facial expression of my main doctor, who took off his white coat and sat next to me to watch the tv in the waiting room with tears in his eyes. He had left the room to take care of a patient and by the time he came back, the first building had fallen. I looked at him and said "the building collapsed," and he walked away. Another patient was hysterical crying, because she was much younger and wanted to go home to her mom and dad. I had just graduated college and my family lived right across the Hudson River from the Towers in Jersey City. My brother contacted me from a landline and insisted that he was getting on a volunteer-toting ferry. I begged him not to and for whatever reason, he listened to me.

    When the second building fell, I was heartbroken to imagine all of the people who had just died in an instant, and the gore of my imagination really messed me up for months. I was not allowed to leave the hospital and I was forced to stay indoors in lockdown. Our medical staff began diminishing as they were being drawn to the injured people and victims of 9/11.

    Within days, I found out about people who had died in my life. One of my friends from college who had just graduated with me died. There were others, the list seemed to go on and on.

    I will never forget certain images of that day, aside from the ones we all know, and I am sure we all have our own private recollections.