Fireman rubble 1

Rebuilding The World Trade Center Through Crisis Leadership And Collaboration, Part 1

Image credit: United States Navy

A special two-part article about tragedy, hope and renewal.

The attacks of September 11th left families, businesses, and public agencies in ruin. The Port Authority was responsible for rebuilding downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 memorial. Sound daunting? How was such an incredible feat accomplished with inadequate funding during a tough time?  Learn about MissionMode crisis leadership and incident management.

Part one deals with memories of the 9/11 tragedy and the challenges faced by the city of New York. In part two, you will experience the hope and renewal of the Twin Towers site.

Every detail etched in my mind

When I was around six years old, I asked my mother how she was able to remember things like directions to a location or family birthdates. She explained that she remembered exactly where she was when President John F. Kennedy was shot. Every detail was ingrained in her head—what she wore, where she was, the color of the wall, everything.

Fast forward to 2001. I was a young businessman sitting at the airport waiting for a flight early one September morning. Every detail of that morning is clear in my mind. The sunrise was beautiful over the Rockies as I watched my plane taxi in to the gate where it would pick me up for my flight to Salt Lake City.

Then a stranger’s cell phone in the row of chairs across from me went off. He looked at the phone in disbelief. I asked what was wrong. He said his wife had just sent him a message about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.

Suddenly, a loud noise came from one of the sports bar across the concourse—people were packing in as fast as they could to watch the small screen over the bar, fixated on a smoking tower. desperately seeking answers. We listened to the news announcer, but little information was known about what had happened.

The Unthinkable

Before we could realize what was happening, a commercial airliner crossed the screen and slammed into the second tower; had I really just seen that happen? My father was a commercial pilot at the time; was he at home?

Image credit: Michael Foran

Panic erupted. Flights were cancelled as the FAA closed the airports. People ran down the concourse trying to get out of the airport as fast as they could, and I was one of them. I remember every detail of that moment in time, from the words of my father on that frantic call—“Son, get out of the airport now”—to the image of the airliner crashing into the tower. This day will forever be etched in my mind, and it still brings tears to my eyes. Now, I understood what my mother meant.

Painful Memories

September 11, 2001—the Pentagon, that Pennsylvania field, the World Trade Center—what images do these things conjure up in your mind?

Image credit: United States Navy

They probably relate to the terrorist attacks that took place that day. Most of us watched in horror as events unfolded that day and in the days after. I remember one particular moment vividly—watching President George Bush standing on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn and sending a message heard around the world about terrorism, “The people who brought these buildings down will hear us all very soon.”

The attacks of September 11 left families, businesses and public agencies in ruin. One such agency was the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

Picking up the Pieces

The Port Authority is responsible for major infrastructure and deep water ports all across the area, including five airports and the subway system. Now, add to that list the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan after the worst terrorist attack in American history. Sound daunting?

“Our very future was in doubt in the days following the attack” said Christopher Ward, former Executive Director of the Port Authority. “We didn’t miss a beat with our responsibilities. Many facilities were back up and running within 24 hours.”

An aerial view of Ground Zero. Image credit: 9/11 Photos/Flickr

The remains of the Twin Towers.  Image credit: United States Navy

Clearing the rubble from Ground Zero. Image credit: 9/11 Photos/Flickr

One thing was clear—the landscape had changed, and not just in a horrific physical nature way. The very fabric of the agency and the landscape of its future had been radically altered as well.

In August of 2001, the World Trade Center had been leased to a private investor whose insurance and net lease income from the towers was wholly inadequate to rebuild the area. No organization had the funding—not the city of New York, not the state, not New Jersey, and certainly not the Port Authority. Leave it to collaborative leaders like Ward and his team to find a way. Between 2001 and 2006, more than $11 billion dollars were committed and skillfully used to rebuild. The project is expected to be completed in late 2014. That’s American resolve at its best.

How was such an incredible feat accomplished during a tough time? Through collaborative leadership.

There were huge obstacles to come. On 9/11, read the second part of this article and learn what happened next.

By Robert Edson, Vice President of Sales for MissionMode. Robert was instrumental in designing and deploying the country’s first VOIP 911 platform, and he deployed and managed a system for inter-agency communications at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. This blog post is based on an article originally published in ICOSA magazine.