Ordinary Heroes: Honoring the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

September 7, 2016
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

In a few weeks, I will again visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. The memorial honors the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, PA, and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.

On September 11—and for several months forward—I served as the Crisis Manager for Marriott International related to the hotel they lost at the World Trade Center. I still don’t know how I would have done my job without having completed and conducted dozens of CPI training programs before those tragic events. This is not because I dealt with violence during that time, but because so many of the concepts and skills apply to a wide variety of emergency situations —and to everyday life.

CPI Verbal Intervention™ training teaches our simple and clear priorities of Violence Response Procedures. The program then adapts these priorities into more generalized priorities of Crisis Response Procedures, applying them to a variety of workplace problems and emergency situations.  These priorities include:

  1. Keep yourself safe.
  2. Assess the situation.
  3. Summon assistance.
  4. Make the situation as safe as possible.

Hundreds of ordinary people performed heroic tasks during the 9/11 response. They undoubtedly thought about these or similar priorities while saving people’s lives.

Rick Rescorla was one of these heroes. Rick was the director of security for the Morgan Stanley financial services firm at the World Trade Center. His extensive background in emergency response included military service during the Vietnam War. He had already lived through a terrorist attack at the Twin Towers 20 years earlier. He was 62 years old and dying of terminal bone marrow cancer on September 11, 2001. He was working on the forty-fourth floor of the World Trade Center when a plane crashed into the building.

At 8:46 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center Tower 1 (the North Tower). Rescorla heard the explosion and saw the tower burning from his office window in the forty-fourth floor of World Trade Center Tower 2 (the South Tower).

When a Port Authority announcement came over the public address system urging people to stay at their desks, Rescorla ignored the announcement, grabbed his bullhorn, walkie-talkie, and cell phone, and began systematically ordering Morgan Stanley employees to evacuate.

He directed people down a stairwell from the forty-fourth floor, continuing to calm them after the building lurched violently following the crash of United Airlines Flight 175 thirty-eight floors above into Tower 2 at 9:03 a.m.

Morgan Stanley executives have pointed out that even a group of 250 people visiting the offices for a stockbroker training class knew what to do because they had been shown the nearest stairway.

Rescorla had boosted morale among his troops in Vietnam by singing Cornish songs from his youth. Now he did the same in the stairwell, intuitively sensing that doing so would keep everyone focused. This simple and clear step helped save people’s lives.

Rick Rescorla’s background, training, and experience enabled him to quickly jump into action. Running up and down 22 floors in the Morgan Stanley – Dean Witter headquarters, he helped evacuate 2,700 people. He was last seen on the tenth floor, heading up to find even more people, when the building collapsed with him inside.

I often think about Rick Rescorla and the hundreds of other ordinary heroes during my visits to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.

My visit in a few weeks holds special personal meaning for me. It will be my first visit as a dual citizen of the Republic of Ireland and the United States of America.

I’ve spent many years studying my own family history. This research was necessary in order to provide the Irish government with the extensive documentation necessary to prove my Irish lineage. I received notification of my Irish Citizenship from the Government of Ireland on August 8, 2016. I see this step as a unique and powerful way to honor the lives of my mother and grandmother, who were both Irish citizens.

“9/11s” have happened throughout Irish history. I could describe numerous historical events involving invasions, bombings, and other devastating events reaching back over a thousand years. These include the Irish Famine; various Irish uprisings including the Easter Rising of 1916; the War of Independence; the Irish Civil War; and various bombings, assassinations, and other horrific events throughout history. So many ordinary heroes emerged at these times.

The Irish have been in New York City since colonial days. After the Irish Famine in the late 1840s, the New York Irish community grew rapidly. By 1879, Irish people made up half of the city’s population. With the rest of the world, New York’s Irish watched the devastating events unfold on September 11, 2001. More than 1,000 people—who were either Irish by birth or by descent—were affected by the 9/11 events. As a fellow Irish Citizen, I will also honor them during my visit.

This September marks the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is marking the occasion with a major new exhibition. Rendering the Unthinkable: Artists Respond to 9/11 is a collection of artwork by 13 artists and their reactions to the terror attacks. Ranging in media from paintings and sculpture to works on paper and video, these pieces will be displayed together for the first time in the museum.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is open daily. It offers exhibitions and events including films, tours, educational programs, and live talks.

We salute all the professional and citizen responders who responded to all of the devastating 9/11 events around the United States. We honor the memory of victims and offer our caring support to their loved ones.

Bill Badzmierowski has served as a crisis responder during Hurricane Iniki in the Hawaiian Islands; countless tornadoes, fires, and floods in various parts of North America; the Southern California earthquake; the Wisconsin train derailment; the Egypt Air crash, Air Transat crash, and Alaska Airlines crash; the shootings at Columbine High School; the September 11, 2001 terrorist incidents in the United States; the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia; and a number of other major crisis events throughout the world.

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