Voice Recordings of the 9/11 Attack
No event in recent times has produced as many explanations as 9/11. Thousands of people died when 19 young men with small knives attacked the World Trade Center and demolished a wing of the Pentagon.
Corporate America responded with a rare spirit of unity. At Verizon, CEO Ivan Seidenberg used the company’s voice mail system to assure employees that they were safe and to let them know what was happening.
Voice Recordings of Employees
A company’s communications systems can be a vital lifeline during crisis. When they fail, or when normal flow of information is disrupted by events, it can leave employees confused, isolated, and anxious.
For example, a law firm based in the South Tower of the World Trade Center experienced significant problems with its phone system after the terrorist attacks. One attorney had to evacuate the building while attempting to contact her clients.
For some companies, such as Verizon, the problem was compounded by the fact that its wire-line phones in New York City were overwhelmed by calls and that capacity in 140 West Street was diminished because of cut trunk cables. Nevertheless, senior management made efforts to reach out to employees. At Dell, for example, CEO Michael Dell and other directors held meetings with the boardroom staff to ensure everyone’s safety and explain how they would get the company back to business. They also recorded voice mails for employees that were broadcast daily until the stock market reopened.
Voice Recordings of Emergency Responders
In the aftermath of 9/11, people trapped in the Twin Towers and aboard the hijacked aircraft used their cellphones to call loved ones or 911. The recordings, which are archived and available for listening at the 9/11 Museum, continue to comfort family members of victims and serve as a record of one of the most pivotal days in American history.
During the crisis, senior managers at companies such as Dell and Morgan Stanley used their voice mail systems to communicate with employees to assure them that they were safe, even though the headquarters were in Manhattan. They also took the opportunity to update them on corporate communications plans and the status of their building’s emergency response systems.
In the weeks and months after 9/11, a series of letters containing the lethal biological agent anthrax was sent to newsrooms and congressional offices, sparking nationwide alarm. The FBI eventually pins the blame on American scientist Bruce Ivins, who commits suicide in 2008. The events of September 11 triggered sweeping changes to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism practices, launched two major wars, and altered Americans’ daily lives.
Voice Recordings of Rescue Workers
Nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks, these recordings are still being shared and treasured. Many have provided comfort to loved ones, served as evidence in criminal cases and provided insights for the 9/11 Commission Report. Some are exhibited at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
At Morgan Stanley, a financial firm based in the World Trade Center complex, employees who heard a loud bang felt a jolt that was like “a small earthquake.” When they stood up, they saw an enormous black wall of smoke and debris.
One of the most significant challenges was that emergency responders didn’t have complete information about what was happening in the towers. That was partly because of a communications failure.
Despite the confusion, people did their best to provide help as they could. Firefighter Orio Palmer was a marathon runner and engineer, and used his fitness to fix a broken lift and lead other firefighters to the site of the impact zone in the South Tower.
Voice Recordings of Survivors
The 9/11 attacks changed lives for countless Americans, including many survivors who were trapped in the Twin Towers. A few of those survivors were able to pick up their phones and call 911. Their conversations have been released in a documentary.
One of the first voices heard on the recording is a man yelling, “Please don’t leave the building. One of the towers just collapsed!” It’s believed he was referring to United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower.
In the Pentagon, a man named Ho’opi’i guided workers to safety through thick smoke. According to a museum blog post, people would follow his powerful baritone voice as they tried to find their way out of the burning building.
Several survivors of the attacks suffered from health issues, including lung diseases and anxiety disorders. CDC health specialist Anthony Gardner says that many of these conditions are linked to dust, debris and toxins from the World Trade Center towers.