9/11, E-911: A Remembrance and Lessons Learned

By Peter Bernstein September 11, 2012

Every year on this day, like most Americans, I flashback to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. It seems like only yesterday that the world changed forever. You likely remember precisely where you were, who you were with and how you felt as the day unfolded. It’s hard not to do so.   

I was in Washington D.C., one block from the White House getting ready to host a press conference, ironically for a new security initiative by a client of mine. We were having breakfast in the J.W. Marriott Hotel and watched the TV shots of the World Trade Center burning from the first attack. Next came the second plane's strike. Someone ran into the hotel lobby shouting they had just come across the 14th Street Bridge and saw a plane crash into the Pentagon.

We were ushered into the sub-basement of the hotel where we watched the towers come down. We awaited further instructions. The fear was that until all planes in the air were accounted for, it was likely the White House was a live target.   

I will not go into the narrative of all of the incredible things that happened and that I saw the rest of that harrowing day. There are just a few things I remember that, with your indulgence, I would like to note.

I remember it was one of the clearest days in my memory of living in the Northeast. I remember the fear. I remember driving up the Garden State Parkway late in New Jersey that afternoon and looking East to see the smoke rising from ground zero. I remember the sorrow and anger in looking at the New York skyline which to this day I cannot view without feeling there is something missing. I remember being amazed that my cell phone worked in the basement of the hotel enabling me to tell my wife on her cell phone that I was out of harm’s way even as all of the landlines were busy. 

I remember hearing about the death of my friend’s brother who worked for Kantor Fitzgerald and the death of the wife of a fraternity brother who was on the plane from Boston. I remember the roar of the jets flying low over our house, and my wife telling me that earlier the jets had flown so low you could see the pilots and how she had turned to my kids and told them, “we will be okay, those are the good guys.”  

Like I said, the list of things remembered is long, painful, personal and yet communal as well. This will always be a day that gives us pause.  It is a day we must always remember.

What we learned, where we are and need to go

In what in the mind’s eye is a blink of an eye, on this day of remembrance and contemplation the distance in time has made me consider from a technology perspective what we learned from 9/11, where we are in terms of security and our ability to assure first responders have the best tools to do their jobs, and where we need to go. I will be brief.

What we learned from a business perspective is how relatively unprepared most companies were from the standpoint of business continuity and disaster recovery. That said, a true credit to the financial community that it was able to get up and running so quickly considering that the area near ground zero contains the single highest concentration of critical assets that are the foundation of not just U.S. but global communications. 

They set an example of preparedness that has since been replicated in other sectors.  

9/11 caused most companies to take a more expansive view of risk management. And, the importance of IT in this picture became paramount. As a result, a lot more thought and investment has gone into how to protect both physical and corporate assets, especially maintaining connectivity between critical technology resources and people.

We learned the vulnerability of the PSTN. When voice networks were over-whelmed, data networks worked. Unfortunately, 9/11 became in a way the proof case for VoIP. We learned that in-building wireless coverage is important.

Most importantly, we learned that our mish-mash of communications capabilities for first responders was woefully inadequate. It is in this E-911 scenario area where we still have work to do. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to this day in critical areas remain un-headed. While we have extensive video surveillance in place, particularly in lower Manhattan and in Washington, D.C., we are still on the on-ramp of upgrading E-911 capabilities and providing the public safety agencies the tools they need to respond faster and more effectively. 

This is not to say the landscape should be seen as one of gloom and doom. In fact, there has been significant progress that deserves recognition. Emergency notification solutions have improved (think of what now happens with things like Amber and Silver alerts, etc.). Plus, the prospects of public safety use of purpose-built LTE wireless solutions means in the not-too-distant future most public safety agencies will be able to exploit the multimedia/multi-channel information that needs to be captured and disseminated in real-time to drastically increase first responder effectiveness, including their interactions with enterprises in impacted areas and their employees. 

Finally, on the business end of things, one of the real benefits of the move of things to the cloud is the extra levels of network reliability and resiliency it can provide, when properly architected in terms of access redundancy and geographic diversity of critical data, to assure business continuity during times of disaster.

We may not be there yet for providing our first responders the capabilities they need and the connectivity they require, but we are on the way. The same is true in the enterprise where 9/11 caused a wake-up call that has been heeded. It is my hope that next year at this time, along with remembering the events of the day and the lives lost, that there will be even more progress on the lessons that were learned. 

As a New York area resident, I look forward to a project being done by the families of victims to create a library of the voices and videos of those who were lost in the attacks and to visiting the memorial that occupies the footprint of the former towers to pay my respects to friends and neighbors who perished. Their voices and images fortunately were captured which means they will never be forgotten.

Edited by Braden Becker
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