9/11 Memories

I had put off writing this blog last week, but the Naval yard shooting made me come back to the topic, so here I am talking about how we handle such events in the modern workplace.

The first thing that struck me with the tragedy in the Washington DC Naval Yard was how quickly I learned about it compared to 9/11. Back in 2001, there were no smartphones, there was no twitter, and even Google was only 3 years old and only beginning to develop into a prominent search engine for the internet. On 9/11/01 I didn’t hear about the jets crashing into the twin towers until I returned from a meeting after 10:00am eastern time. Fast forward to 2013 and I was receiving tweets and push notifications from my CNN app that something was terribly wrong at the Washington Naval Yard within minutes of the event.

Back in 2001 I was working at what was then known as BellSouth Center (now AT&T Center), a 45-story building in Downtown Atlanta right next to the tallest building in Atlanta housing Bank of America and just down the road from the Coca Cola Headquarters building. I had just returned from a meeting in a different building that was across Olympic Park from CNN Center. That morning, all of these sites were considered potential targets if the terrorists decided to hit Atlanta.

My first thought was of my family, but they were at home or in school in the suburbs and therefore considered safe. My second thought was my staff. What should we do? Telecommuting was not really prevalent at that time. Working at home was taking a brief case of paperwork home, not linking to your desktop through the internet like you were really there. As we watched people stream out of the Bank of America Building onto the streets, my finance leadership team got together and we quickly came to a decision. At 10:15 we were telling everyone in the building that they could stay at work, but if they felt compelled to do so, they could take what work they could and head home for the rest of the day. There supervisors would call them later that day or in the morning to let me know the plans for the morning. I left the building at 11:00 after everybody on the floor had left. It was eerie leaving an empty building and walking to my car in a nearly empty garage.

We did end up returning to the office the next day, but the mood was different. Security was changed from that day forward forever. Even though no planes were flying we had no idea what else might be in store for us. At AT&T we know how important it is for us to be there for our customers no matter what is going on. We are our customer’s connection to family, friends and the world. That attitude helped sustain us through the next few days until some level of normalcy slowly returned.

I heard stories from my parents’ generation about remembering exactly where they were and what they were doing when the heard President Kennedy was shot. For me, that memory will be where I was and what I was doing the morning of 9/11/01. A day I will always remember.

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