September 11, 2001
It was a normal Tuesday on the calendar for most people in the U.S. when they got up from bed that morning. I was still in bed because I had just flown cross country to Southern California the previous night. Although I lived on the East Coast and worked out of NRT headquarters in New Jersey, I spent a lot of time in Southern California because NRT’s Accounting, HR, and IT operations were headquartered in Mission Viejo, California.
I always tried to stay close to East Coast time so I usually woke up no later than 5 am Pacific Time but would lie in bed and watch the early morning news for a little while. Then I would catch up on emails, check in with the East Coast, and get ready to drive into the Mission Viejo office.
On the early morning news on a local station, they broke in to announce the first attack on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. Right around 9 am East Coast time, my wife called me and asked if I had seen the news flash on it. Yes I had, and I switched channels to the network that she was watching while we talked.
While we were talking, they showed a plane hitting one of the towers.
“They just ran the video of the plane crashing into the tower.”
It had just dawned on me that I watched the hit on the second tower being broadcast live. “No, another plane just crashed into the other tower. See where the first one was already hit?”
“Oh my God! What’s going on?”
“I don’t know but it doesn’t look like an accident when both of them get hit minutes apart. I have to make some phone calls back East to check on things.”
“Who would do something like this?”
“I don’t know but whatever is going on, I don’t think it’s over. I gotta go.”
Everyone back East was on edge. Our network was up and running, and IT services were still available. Thank the Almighty for small favors. Then my cell phone rang again and it was my wife.
“Ok, is there something you know that you haven’t told me?”
“No – why?”
“Because you just said that you didn’t think it was over and another plane just crashed into the Pentagon.”
“Honey, I really don’t know anything more than you do.”
There’s a long story why my wife asked me that question but that’s another story for another time. I really don’t remember what else I did at that point other than to get dressed and get my butt into the office ASAP. I arrived there well before the workday started which was good. A lesson I learned years before: During crises, leaders always needed to be onsite, visible, and accessible to the staff.
People started arriving at the office, shaken and questioning everything. Had there been any attacks in California? What were we doing to prevent a problem there in Mission Viejo? What was going on back East? NRT Headquarters was in Parsippany, New Jersey, about 35 miles due west of New York City and a lot of employees there had relatives and friends who were already at work in the city that morning. My directives were to keep things out West as calm as possible, address people’s questions and fears without speculating, and stay tuned for updates.
Understandably, there were some employees in Mission Viejo who were upset. We let them go home if it made sense. A lot of them preferred to stay in the office – after all, what better support group to have at a time like that other than your fellow employees?
Almost everyone was on edge for the rest of the day. I could guess how the people back East were handling it so I tried to stay out of the way there, provide updates to management as they had requested, and keep things running.
By then, reports of a plane crash in Pennsylvania had hit the news. Later that evening, details started coming out and on the following morning, people in Mission Viejo were still on edge.
I was supposed to fly back home on Thursday of that week out of LA International Airport. The news reports led me to believe that I might not get back home for another week so I let my wife know.
I headed to the airport that Thursday afternoon well in advance of my scheduled departure time because Thursday was the first day that the FAA allowed incoming and outgoing flights at LAX and I didn’t know what to expect. It was good that I did. The rental car shuttle dropped us off at the base of the on ramp to the terminals and it was easily a half mile walk up the ramp complete with baggage just to get to the first airline terminal. Anyone who has flown out of LAX knows what I’m talking about.
Ad hoc security stations had been set up at the entrance to every concourse and they confiscated nail clippers and a shaving razor from my toiletries. After what seemed an eternity, we boarded our plane and began taxiing out to the runway. After what seemed another eternity, we finally took off. I was never more thankful to be going home than I was that day.
Eighteen years later, it occasionally feels like it happened yesterday. My story is really no different from millions of other people with memories of that day. Thousands of people have lost their lives, either on that day, the days following or in subsequent years. Many of them needlessly, many of them in service to their country.
What does this have to do with technology and the real estate business? Like everything else, they have changed dramatically since then but the human condition is timeless and ongoing. Some people still treat others like crap and some companies still try to put one over on other companies. But many people have absorbed and applied many lessons from September 11 because they remember where they were on that morning. Do you remember where you were?