If you ask anyone over the age of twenty where they were on September 11th 2001, you will likely receive a very personal and emotional account. Everyone has a story to tell about where they were, what they were doing and what they experienced during one of the most significant events in the modern era.
That crisp Tuesday morning I was, like millions of other New Yorkers, living the dream in the greatest city in the world. I was 33 years old and president of a media company with over 200 employees. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was fortunate to live within an easy 20-block walk to my office, which was located across from Lincoln Center. The first hint that something had gone terribly wrong that morning was when I turned the corner onto West 66th, next to where Good Morning America was filming that day. There was a pack of people in complete silence and disbelief staring into monitors through the glass that filtered into the studios of ABC. I asked an ABC cameraman what was happening and he said a commuter plane hit the World Trade Center. A few seconds later, we all watched in horror as the second plane hit.
The human psyche is a clever fellow. A behavioral scientist once told me that when human beings witness a traumatic event we do one of three things: fight, flight or freeze. I wanted to fight. I immediately sprinted to my office to see if our employees were OK. We told the handful of people already in the office to go home. We could not contact anyone else. Helpless. I did what most people did. I watched Wolf Blitzer on CNN from my office. There were three of us crowded in front of the TV. When the towers fell, there were many tears and many emotions. We had to get out.
Our building security guards – gone. Facilities – gone. Wolf Blitzer – little help to me now. We were truly on our own and we all thought more attacks were imminent. When I stepped out into the street and merged into a huge stream of people trying to get home I found myself in a sea of zombies. Torn clothes, caked dirt, dried tears, blood, limping. Quiet. No one was saying a word. Every other person I saw was carrying some form of alcohol. It was a way to cope. There were lines of people 200 long waiting to use pay phones and searching for quarters. People were holding up wallet card pictures of loved ones. All levels of everything defaulted to the lowest level of lows. No human spirit, no communications, no transportation, no direction. No information.
Tonight, for the first time in 10 years I unlocked a small yellow suitcase I brought back from New York and found two newspapers that I purchased on September 12th, 2001 – the New York Times and New York Post. Some of the headlines: “U.S. ATTACKED”, “ACT OF WAR”, “Tragedy Shuts Down Country”, “More Than 10,000 Feared Dead”, “It Was the End for All of Us”, “The Day New York Died”, “Experts Blame Bin Laden”, “Mayor Promises City Will Bounce Back”, “It’s a New World.”
Clearly, 9/11 thrust all of us into a new world. Every time I get on an airplane, hear a siren or walk into a high rise I think of 9/11. In some ways I believe our “‘New World’ is safer than 10 years ago such as air travel. But, in many ways, we are not safer. Terrorists will attack again. Pandemics will continue to surface. Natural disasters will continue to be highly unpredictable. Cyber threats are only in their infancy. Social media now puts all companies in the spotlight when crisis hits. The threats of the 21st Century are constantly changing putting pressure on all of us to adapt and be better prepared.
As a fighter, I challenged myself as a business leader with what I would do differently when it happens next time. Several years after 9/11, it became my mission to find out and I started a company to protect businesses and their workforce. I met with leaders from expert emergency preparedness and response organizations – the CDC, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, NSA, CIA insurance companies, and the military. I then met with CEOs of companies of all sizes and industries and they too were very concerned about doing business in a world of complex, unpredictable 21st century threats. With a greater emphasis on uptime, corporate governance, reputation/brand management, and protecting human capital, C-level executives are seeking a new way to ensure their people are safe and their operations and shareholder value is maintained in an increasingly risky environment.
I’m proud of the fact that, to date, Preparis is safeguarding more than 500,000 people and over $200 billion in enterprise value in over 150 cities around the world – and growing. As companies face the challenges of a riskier society, our business premise grows more relevant every day. By helping to prepare and protect businesses – and ultimately shareholder values – we are also making communities safer too.
Fight, flight or freeze. Where were you on 9/11, and what are some of the lasting impressions it had on you, your company and your family? I look forward to continuing the conversation with you.
Founder & Board Director