Protect Yourself from Terrorism in New York City
>> I'm writing this article so that you better understand what it is like to be near a dangerous situation involving fire and building damage and provide background information that may help you make critical decisions that might one day save your life.
In upcoming articles, I'll cover specific survival tips relative to New York City, terrorism or not. In honor of those who died and of our national heritage, I'll also discuss what we can do together to promote democracy, human rights, education and international harmony.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, at 8:15 AM, I arrived at a subway platform in the World Trade Center (WTC). It was a warm, sunny day and the WTC's biweekly Green Market (farmer's market) was predictably busy. I had planned on buying gift sets of mixed cherry jelly from Beth's Farm Kitchen, one of the vendors, but decided to postpone it until noon as I was late for work.
Picture of the southeast corner of the WTC complex: This picture, taken on September 16 from the corner of Liberty and Broadway, looks in the direction where the Green Market once stood on Liberty and Church Street.
I used to walk through the WTC every weekday to get to my 11 Broadway office. As I live in New Jersey, I would take one of two routes. Either I departed from Hoboken via the Path subway or left from Weehawken by bus, arriving at the 42nd Street Port Authority where I'd catch the C or A subway. All routes ended in the basement of the WTC.
That day, I rushed to my office and got right to work without buying my usual morning coffee. At around 8:45, I heard what sounded like a low flying plane, then an explosion. I immediately looked out of our west facing window only to see a peaceful Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, office buildings and the Hudson River.
Across the street, people were streaming out of their offices, but they walked south towards Battery Park, not north to the WTC. Shortly thereafter, sirens started screaming in what sounded like the beginning of a parade. Note that periodically, boats shoot off cannons in the harbor for special events. I strained to see those boats, but when I couldn't, I rationalized that they were around the bend outside of my view. Figuring everything was OK, I returned to my desk.
Shortly after 9 AM, my employee came in saying that two planes just hit the WTC. I rushed to a window and because we didn't have screens, I sat on the ledge, leaning out so I could look north up Trinity Place/Church Street. Instantly, I realized that within the past 15 minutes, thousands of people had died and that the WTC buildings were poised to fall. The exterior walls of several floors were gone and in their place were cherry red fire balls and black smoke.
At this writing, I'm still amazed that most people, including authorities, did not realize the extent of danger we faced. No matter what, this article is written to help you become more proactive should you find yourself around danger, whether you can clearly assess the situation or not.
In our case, even though what we saw was alarming, we didn't know why these things were happening. Our office didn't have a radio or TV and I wasn't sure whether we should take time to tune into web radio or just get out. Instinctively, we both called our families telling them that we were OK. In retrospect, that was a dangerous waste of time. I wasn't able to contact them again until after 6 PM. When I visited my office the following week, I found my voice and email filled with frantic messages of people who were trying to find me throughout September 11th.
Following my phone calls, I felt an urge to evacuate. Without turning off the computers or lights, we ran down the stairs fearing a power loss in the elevators. Once outside on Broadway, I said that we had to leave the area immediately.
Our 11 Broadway building is at the southern most tip of Manhattan. Looking south is Battery Park. Looking north, I could see that Broadway was clogged with people; so many, in fact, that it looked like the beginning of last year's World Series parade.
In the picture above, you can see how close Broadway was to the WTC. The WTC complex spread across several east-west blocks. Between it and Broadway, these corridors (such as Varsey, Fulton, Cortlandt and Liberty) were all capable of channeling the force of an explosion, which is why I was afraid.
To avoid the throngs and get out quickly, I turned east on Exchange Place so I could reach Nassau Street, which is one block east of Broadway. At that time, all the east-west streets in the area were filled with the personal papers of people in the WTC who by this time were probably dead.
Have you ever wondered why Americans hold their hands over their hearts when they say the Pledge of Allegiance? I learned that when you experience something very sad and understand the significance of death, it feels like your heart is bulging out of your chest. As I walked, put my hand over mine in order to hold it in; a feeling similar, I'm sure, to what the founders of the USA felt at its inception.
As I quickly walked north on Nassau Street, people were standing around as though they were watching a parade or a spectacular Hollywood pyrotechnic. Some were drinking coffee or heading for a coffee shop to buy more of it. Others were taking photos.
During my trek, I was struck by the absence of emotion in many people. With the exception of a few determined people like me who were trying to vacate the area and those crying because they had friends or family in the WTC, many were simply watching the spectacle, having casual conversation, oblivious to the fact that they were in danger. Throughout Manhattan, in fact, many businesses continued their day as though nothing happened and tourists continued shopping, even in areas near the Financial District.
I prayed that I would be out of the area before the buildings came down. I wondered, however, if my fears were irrational because at 9:30 AM, some 45 minutes after the first crash, no one was evacuated from the neighborhood. This was strange because on the street, people generally thought that we were hit by terrorists, although we didn't know who was involved. No matter, many people treated the situation like it was a media event, not a war zone.
My own travels were halted by the Brooklyn Bridge, which barred Nassau's northern exit. This meant that I had to walk back about a block in order to reach Park Row on the east side of City Hall. This area was very close to the WTC as it touches Varsey Street. Every step filled me determination to get the hell out of there.
As I approached City Hall, I watched cars, trucks and buses drive into the Financial District up Broadway! No effort was made to hold back traffic. In addition, people were actually streaming into the area so they could see the event better.
I continued north past City Hall when I saw a burning ambulance speed past. Its roof was on fire, there was smoke coming out of its windows and its back bumper was dragging. I had no idea what was going on and thought that maybe it was transporting burning people and they didn't have time to put out the fire. That didn't explain why the bumper was dragging, but that explanation satisfied me for the moment.
What you see versus what you think: Without exact information, it is very easy to interpret events the wrong way. If my experience is universal, the tendency is to trivialize danger, no matter how unreasonable, rather than consider its possibility.
I walked one more block, then stopped with others to listen to a car radio. Here, standing near to the Brooklyn Bridge, I learned that the first tower of the WTC came down. It must have happened when I was passing City Hall just prior to my seeing the flaming ambulance. When I looked back, everything over the Financial District was black.
I'm amazed that I did not hear the first or second building fall. I think that this is because there was so much noise around, with sirens constantly screaming, that it masked the explosions. Around this time, however, I also heard that the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol and Los Angeles were attacked and another hijacked plane was heading toward Washington, all of which was distracting! Misinformation abounded, with some people on the sidewalks sharing what they could and others simply pausing to continue shopping.
I kept walking north. For several hours, I thought that the whole nation was under siege and wondered why I was making the effort to get out of town. As it turned out, I walked to the George Washington Bridge, connecting with several other Financial District refugees along the way.
One of my fellow travelers told me that she sat in an office directly in front of the WTC, saw both planes hit and the bodies cascade to the street. She was amazed that she wasn't going crazy with this knowledge. We agreed that the exceptionally long walk up the length of Manhattan helped her sanity.
What is crazy about this whole thing is that both of us discussed how difficult it would be to get to work the next day, with her wondering if her office was even left standing.
Looking Down: The overhead above is of Downtown Manhattan a few days after the attack. The green arrow is where I looked out of our office window. The green spot is where I started walking and the red spot is where I learned that the first building fell, near the Brooklyn Bridge. The grassy triangle is the front lawn of City Hall.
Pedestrians who were between those two spots where chased through the maze of streets by explosive winds and billows of dust up to the water's edge. To the right of the smoke is the World Financial Center and Battery Park City.
What Happened to the Pedestrians and Traffic?
By this time, everyone knows what happened to the inhabitants of the WTC. There has been, however, little discussion about the 4,000 people who were injured and who among them and the known dead were pedestrians and drivers.
The dirty little secret is that despite heroism in and around the WTC itself, the area was not evacuated. Even the people in the second tower were told not to leave the building even though the first one had just been bombed.
I've personally heard several stories from pedestrians who were caught in the blast. One told me that when the sky turned black and everything was covered with ash, people fell in the streets and he thought that some of these people were run over by vehicles.
New York Magazine reported on how vehicles were picked up, smashed against buildings, then dropped on top of people.
One guy I met worked in an office on Broadway that was not evacuated at all. Because they couldn't see the WTC from their windows, the danger seemed remote. They continued to work until the first explosion when everything went black. He made his way outside and was instantly covered with dust. He thought he was going to die because he could not breath. People were falling all around him. He caught one and holding hands, pulled his shirt over his head and just ran toward the East River, not clearly seeing where they were going.
Believe it: Damaged Buildings Fall Down
According to the New York Times, Dr. Frank Moscatelli (Swarthmore College) calculated that the total energy released by the WTC was the equivalent to 600 tons of TNT, or about one-twentieth of the 10-kiloton atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Buildings fall down. They do not float. If you see a tall building with severe damage, assume it is going to fall and when it does, it will generate a lot of force.
I continue to be amazed that so many well educated people did not comprehend the explosive potential related to the damaged, burning WTC buildings before they fell. Hopefully, we'll never have to experience this again, but if you are around a burning building, with or without related terrorism, here's what you need to consider:
Fire weakens structures. A small fire can be put out with water. Big, billowing balls of fire, however, are not easily quenched. Assume that when you see a lot of fire that the building will come down.
Fire can cause explosions. No matter what size the fire, if it ignites a flammable substance, unpredictable explosions can occur. If an explosion occurs, the situation gets worse.
Steel structures melt. Steel is formed by fire. It is shaped into ingots in blast furnaces. If you see a big fire in a building with a steel structure, assume that that structure is going to weaken and the building will come down.
The force of a falling building is like a bomb. The force of a falling building can affect other buildings, including anything or one in the vicinity. That force will snake it's way along streets, seeking outlets until it dissipates. In Manhattan, we are lucky that all the surrounding buildings sit on bedrock muting the vibrations of the explosion. Had the ground been less stable, buildings blocks away could have tumbled, much like what happens during earth quakes.
My advice? If you see a building on fire for any reason, immediately leave the area. If you are in a nearby building, get out and immediately leave the area. If you are a pedestrian, take the best route to get out of harm's way. If you are in a car and are heading toward the fire but can't turn around, pull over, get out and abandon your vehicle.
When Evacuation Doesn't Happen and You are On Your Own
I am going to provide specific tips about confronting situations like this in another article. For now, I want you to understand why your public safety officials might not give you the best advice.
As I am sure you know, New York City lost a contingent of firemen and many police officers. You also know that New York's emergency command center was located in the WTC complex and our leaders were trapped there.
What you need to understand is that when leadership is, indeed, under assault, that leadership needs time to regroup. After all, they are people just like us. In the mayhem, they lost friends and employees. They were running for their own lives while trying to live up to their responsibility to save others.
Let's give our leaders a break!
It is up to us, as informed people, to behave responsibly during an emergency without having to be spoon-fed directions. This means that in an emergency situation, get out of the area and don't wait until you are told to do so. Save yourself and your friends. Don't wait until someone else does it for you because that savior might never show up.
Within 24 hours, shrines appeared all over New York and New Jersey. This picture was taken on September 16 of an impromptu Weehawken, NJ shrine in Hamilton Park, overlooking New York City. On the far right you can see the Financial District without the World Trade Center.
This particular shrine is under a replica of The Liberty Bell.
In honor of all those who died on the East Coast that day, it is now up to us to ring the Liberty Bell again. This time its vibrations must be carried throughout the world so that we can all go forward in the name of compassion, human rights, freedom of expression, education, and international harmony.
All photos except the overhead by Karen Little. The picture on Liberty and Broadway was taken on 9/25/01 when I first returned to my office. The Smoking Financial District was taken on 9/12/01 around noon from New Jersey. The Shrine (Weehawken, NJ) and Blown Out Truck (Manhattan) were taken on 9/16/01. The overhead was featured on www.CNN.com
PS: Prior to moving to New York, I was a security consultant and co-author of the book "Security, ID Systems and Locks: The Book on Electronic Access Control."
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 10/21/2001. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.