The chart in the front of the room

The chart in the front of the room

In my book I mention the bulletin board at the front of the room. I also briefly talk about a chart that was posted for our reference. I don't tell about how this chart impacted me every day.

I didn't take many photos at my first disaster response where I was deployed in Washington, D.C.  Inside of a white nondescript office building, I talked on the phone with hundreds of families who lost loved ones. One of the few photos I did take was of a large chart at the front of the room where I was working, in a Red Cross call center.

As you well know, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. The world watched helplessly as suicide attackers crashed two planes into two of the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. After the horror of that day, many were compelled to help. To do something, anything. Some of us rushed to donate blood and others donated money.

I was already trained to be an emergency disaster responder for the American Red Cross. So I went. 9/11 was my first national disaster deployment. I was honored to be chosen as one of many thousands of Red Cross volunteers who were able to respond.

My function, or job, was casework. When I was trained as a Red Cross caseworker, we were taught how to work one-on-one with individuals or families who lost stuff. Maybe they lost a home to fire, had damage to their house from a falling tree during a tornado, or the first floor of their home might be filled with mud from a flooded river. As a caseworker after 9/11, I did work one-on-one with families, but none of them lost stuff. Instead, everyone I spoke with lost someone they loved.

On October 1, 2001, I left home to go to the Washington, D.C. area. I spent three weeks both calling and receiving calls from families who lost loved ones during the attacks.

In the front of the room where I worked, there was a large bulletin board. This board provided us with information we would need on a daily basis. It had memos and updates about the most recent changes to the forms we used. It had lists of phone numbers of various supervisors, so we could get in touch with them if they weren't in the room. There were phone numbers of contacts in New York City for offices doing in-person casework. There was also a list of churches we could attend in the area. The day and date were written in a very large font. So with only a quick glance we would know what day of the week it was.

My most vivid memory of this bulletin board is of a large four-foot by four-foot chart. This chart had drawings of the two World Trade Center buildings that had collapsed. All 110 floors of the two buildings were depicted. The floors were colored in hues of pink, burgundy, and blue. There were also floors shown in white.

On this chart, the floors in white meant all employees were safe and accounted for. Floors shown in pink had ten or fewer lost that day. Those in burgundy had eleven to one hundred people gone. The companies in blue had more than one-hundred employees die on 9/11.

Occupying these two buildings were people from all walks of life. The companies represented included employees involved in finance, insurance, brokerage, law, communications, futures and bond trading, money management, banking, technology, and more. There were also government offices of New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Along with these, there were simple branch bank offices, coffee vendors, and cafe's. There were waitresses, cashiers, secretaries, file clerks, administrative assistants, and police officers of the Port Authority.

Every day, throughout the day, I would look at this chart and think about the almost 3,000 people who died. 

It represented real people. Not only statistics. While I was in Washington, I spoke with the loved ones of people lost in these companies and businesses.

One company lost 38 of their 55 employees. In another only two died of the 91 who worked there. In one business all of the employees who reported to work that day died, there were over 350 lost. In some fortunate businesses all of the staff were able to escape. In one Information Systems company all were able to evacuate, but three had injuries. In another, one-third of the employees died. And the list went on and on.

The one that truly broke my heart the most was the restaurant called Windows On The World located on the 106th floor. None of the employees were accounted for. About one-hundred people who were eating in the restaurant also died. I spoke with a woman whose three siblings met for breakfast. They all lost their lives. These people were at the top of the world enjoying their day until terrorists ended it.

A few years ago, Craig and I traveled out west to see South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. On September 11th, we left Yellowstone driving past the entrance where the United States flag was flying in the breeze at half-staff and drove south to the Grand Tetons. While there, we took a drive up one mountain through winding roads and narrow switchbacks to the top.

There, on this September 11th, I stood at the top of the mountain looking out across the grand vistas feeling like I was on top of the world. I couldn't help but be saddened as I remembered all of the people in Windows On The World. I thought of the brothers and sisters who died on September 11, 2001, along with waiters, waitresses, cook staff, and guests. I swallowed back unshed tears as I tried hard not to let my memories of that day ruin a wonderful vacation.