Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2001 8:52 PM
Subject: NYC Perspective
I have returned from 10 days at the site of the World Trade Center disaster,
where I had the opportunity to help in a small way to assist the FEMA, (Federal
Emergency Management Agency), Search and Rescue teams.
The enormity of the disaster makes is impossible for anyone to explain or
relate. An enormous quantity of dust and debris extends for many blocks in
every direction. We found ourselves walking in a thick layer of debris and a
gray powder even inside of surviving buildings. It appears that all the
materials used to construct the interior walls (i.e. sheetrock, etc.) of the World Trade
Center have been turned into powder.
My regular job involves the usage of very small video/television cameras and optical devices to look into small or confined spaces where people can not or should not go, such as pipes, tunnels, tanks, etc. It was hoped that some of this technology could be adapted to search efforts. Since we had no idea what would be useful, we took everything we could gather up that might be useful, loaded it all into two large enclosed vehicles. This included a variety of small cameras, borescopes (similar to medical endoscopes but longer), optical devices, and crawlers. We had not had any previous contact with Search and Rescue teams and were simply guessing what might be useful....
The site where I work has a group separate from mine that works to improve the technology in law enforcement agencies and this provided for the interface needed to allow us to easily offer assistance.
The real story of the disaster recovery may be how everyone responded to the situation and to the needs of each other. This was especially true as the week went along and it became more obvious that any "live" rescue was very unlikely (To date there have been only 5 and they occurred on days 1 and 2). Everyone wanted to know "What can I do to help."
We found out very quickly that the needs of the search teams were not what we expected. We tried to quickly adapt the video parts we had with locally acquired parts and had some success in making remote video cameras available to the teams. This meant the application of the video camera components in conjunction with a lot of duct tape and imagination.
We stumbled upon a real need for high magnification cameras mounted in high places, to help the fire department view the operation near the heavy equipment. For this we had the help of a neighboring Nassau Counties sheriff's department to put some of the systems together (Actually their wiretapping and surveillance group ...It is a long story). We eventually put in eight such systems and they are being well used.
The one catch was that the cameras were put in 9th. 10th, or 11th floor of buildings chosen by the fire department...But most of these building had no electricity. So a generator, cans of gasoline, and the video equipment had to be carried up a lot of stairs. We really appreciated those nice, and really big, Sheriffs deputies.
Mostly we supported the activities of the searchers and tried to help as much as possible.
The big story is still the very many things people did that they considered little but were really big to someone. An example is the Nassau Country sheriffs deputies that after the collapse of the buildings (when all land and cellular phone service to the area was cut off) collected names and phone numbers of firemen and then took their boats across the river and called their families.
At one corner of the controlled area there is a McDonald's in a tent, that had 20 people cooking and giving away food to anyone there for free. At the other corner is a river cruise ship (it was caught there) that has been converted to a lunch room that serves hot food to about 500 people per hour for free. I personally saw two semi trailers of tools and generators unloaded and given away, free.
It was literally impossible to BUY anything within the controlled area and everything was donated and given away. This includes more food, water, drinks, and snacks than even I could eat. It also includes free clothing of all kinds. I had to get a pair of pants (mine got soaked) and a pair of boots (I brought the wrong kind) and I really appreciated the donations.
AT&T set up about 30 phones in the lunch boat and all calls to anywhere were free. We were even given a few free cab rides ... Remember this is New York.
A Canadian fireman showed up in an area right next to us. He then unloaded $50,000 of cell phone parts, batteries, and chargers. After he gave them all away to the workers and firemen, he quietly went home ... If I had not asked him directly, I would not even have known who he was.
None of the fireman, policemen, or search teams wanted their individual pictures taken ... No one wanted any recognition or fame. And no one felt they deserved any significant credit .. This entire thing is just so large and so terrible that no one felt they could do anything significant. That is the significant part..that everyone DID do something ... they did what they could .......
I observed an almost universal high level of professionalism and frustration of "not being able to do more". On several occasions we asked for a fireman to man a remote upper floor camera we had just installed (remember it is a 10 floor walkup) and usually an entire squad of 8 men would show up. It was a humbling example of that "is there anything we can do".
As we walked out the first few days we came to an area where nearly1000 locals would wait and applaud the searchers. We were applauded by the crowd as well ... it was VERY HUMBLING.
Pray for the survivors.....