Ground Zero: A tribute to the human connection
I’m a news junky. Have been my whole life. Probably why I started out as a reporter and why I enjoy much of what I do today. It’s the story that matters and the impact that story has to bring people closer or pull them farther apart. Every story has the power to – at the very least – get the conversation started, and, hopefully, get people to take some action. The story that broke a decade ago is one that touched every human being, and one that is being remembered on this 10th anniversary with the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum taking place today on the very site in New York that has been known as “Ground Zero.”
As I watched a few days ago on PBS the NOVA presentation of “Engineering Ground Zero”, a truly epic story that chronicles the five-year construction of not only the National September 11 Memorial & Museum but also of the rebuilding of the One World Trade Center (1 WTC), I couldn’t help but remember where I was on that fateful day.
Ten years ago today, living on the West coast and working in the same industry as I do now, I drove the deserted LA freeways on my way into the office that 9/11 morning, listening to the car radio as the horrific news of what was happening on the East coast continued to unfold. I remember the eerie quiet: not a sound to be heard from the usual airplanes that filled our skies. I also remember the feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation. I wanted to be near the people who mattered most to me. I wanted to turn around and go home.
Then I thought about the people who were directly impacted: the thousands who worked at the fallen towers and the thousands more to whom those people mattered most. I realized that the companies connected with all those people worldwide would need our help to get their messages out. In some small way, I believed that I could help make a difference that day. I like to think that I did. On the phone with understandably distraught representatives from so many organizations, I kept my own emotions in check as much as possible to support those callers. The two I remember most were the generous caregivers from the Red Cross who wanted to send out press releases offering disaster relief as well as asking for blood donations, and the spokespeople from Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial services firm that occupied the 101st to 105th floors of the north tower at the World Trade Center, the team who lost 658 of its 960 employees, and who now needed to send out crisis communications.
I think about the stories. I think about the human connections throughout history, in times of tragedy and in times of triumph. I think about the ever-evolving mediums, channels, and new technologies we use to communicate. I think about the fact that on 9/11 ten years ago, today’s most immediate means of communication – the 140 characters of Twitter – didn’t yet exist, and the journalist in me wonders how that day might have been communicated differently if it had. It will be interesting to track the conversations about 9/11 and its 10th anniversary in social media today. I think what we might find is one universal story of engagement that never changes, one that includes the perseverance of spirit and the renewal possible when people work together to rebuild. That’s exactly what’s happening at Ground Zero and around the world as people have conversations about the dedication, honoring the past and moving forward.