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