Reflections: The NRC Remembers 9/11 (Part 1)

Reflections: The NRC Remembers 9/11
Part I MR. HASSELBERG: 9/11, I was preparing, along
with two other response coordinators, an exercise that
we were going to have on 9/12. And, in preparing the room, we do
what the coordinators always do, and another coordinator, Doug Weaver,
came in and he said, “Are you watching what’s going on in New York?”
We turned on the TV monitor, and saw what was going on
at the World Trade Center. And, we talked about how odd it seemed on
such a beautiful day that an airplane could make the mistake of
hitting a building that big. But, it wasn’t very long before the next building
was hit, and we immediately, all the four of us,
knew it was time to do what we do. The problem is, there was no plan
for this, and I got to thinking about Dwight Eisenhower talking about
plans are useless, but planning is essential. And, that’s what we
do in emergency response. You never get the emergency that you plan
for. But, we all knew what we needed to do, and
I found myself within 20 seconds in the Operations
Center with the Ops officers, and they needed somebody to serve
as the monitor to brief the Chairman, brief senior NRC managers about
what was happening, and serve as a master of ceremonies on that conference
bridge, and it turned out to be me.
And, we were probably on for 45 minutes or an hour, and
we saw more developments. There was talk of the State Department
maybe being attacked. The Pentagon had been attacked. The other
World Trade Center, one of the towers had collapsed, and finally, the
Chairman said, “I’m coming down to the Ops Center.” So, it was up to
Karen Jackson and myself, and other responders there, to activate the
Center, ask people to come back in because the Government had just
closed itself. People were evacuating the buildings for their own
safety. But, the professionalism of our folks, they
all came back in, did their duty, without any plans.
We found the right thing to do, common sense, good training, good management,
we got through it, and I was very proud to be a member of
the NRC that day. MAN: So, I was down on Capitol Hill that morning,
as part of an NRC training class, right across
the street from the U.S. Capitol. At the time, we didn’t have any idea
what was going on, but, you know, later I thought back about
how Flight 93, and where it might have been headed were it not for the
heroism of the people there, and the delays that just randomly happened
with that flight. It would have been much different.
But, as it was, there was a lot of confusion there in
the building. We didn’t know what was going on, so many rumors of
gunfire on the Mall, bombs on the Metro, just confusion. We weren’t
sure whether the class was canceled, whether we would have to repay
our tuition fees for the course if we left and evacuated, but,
eventually, we did. As we left the building, we could see black
smoke coming up in the distance to the south, and we figured out
where that was coming from. As we walked along, one of the members of
the class finally went into a building and phoned his
wife to let her know he was okay, and as he came out of the building,
after watching on TV what had happened, he came up to us and, you
know, explained that these jetliners, or these planes were, actually,
commercial jetliners, and just in great agitation, and
he, you know, dropped all his things there on the ground and put his
hands over his head and, you know, crouched all the way down to the
ground. You know, it was just like how in elementary school during
tornado drills we used to practice that, and just that image of him
has always stayed with me. It just symbolized to me the pain and tragedy
that everyone felt, and the empathy for the victims, and the humanity
and solidarity with which everyone came together after those really
terrible, terrible events.
WOMAN: On 9/11, I was at Reagan National Airport, there
to board a plane to go to North Carolina A&T Career Expo for the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So, I was on my first recruitment
trip. I found myself in the airplane, and all of a sudden the pilot
came over the loud speaker and he said, “I’m sorry, you all have to
go back inside of the terminal, because a plane just went into the
North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.”
And, of course, the people in the plane, we were looking
at each other, but we got up and did what he said. It was in my mind
as I was walking in, why are we having to go back inside of the
airport when that happened in New York. But, it was obvious, when I
got back into the airport, people were running, a voice over the loud
speaker was saying, evacuate, evacuate, and by that time I got
outside of the front of the airport and I looked to my right toward
the Pentagon and the smoke was just billowing up in the sky. It was
terrible, terrible. But, they said, keep walking, keep walking.
So, I walked over to Crystal City. There was thousands
of people in the airport that day, the news said it was 45,000
people in Reagan National. I was able, though, to get a taxi
home. As the day went on, and I saw all of the things
that were happening in New York, and the other
areas of the country, I was just so thankful that I was, indeed, at home
and not out of state having to come back, because a lot of my colleagues
were in different places. And, I was also happy to be in America,
and to be in a country that I really, really hope and pray
nothing like that ever happened again.
MAN: Well, on 9/11, interesting enough, it was the one
day in my 23-year career here at the NRC that all our management was
on a retreat, and they were away from the office, and they had
delegated me as the Regional Administrator. So, I came in in the morning, did my normal
duties as Regional Administrator, and by about 10:00
things just got crazy here in the region. There was two of us who responded
down right where we are sitting now to the IRC, Greg Smith and
myself, and we were immediately on the phone with NORAD and the
FAA with the primary focus on Flight 93, which was, actually, crossing
Pennsylvania quite near Beaver Valley, and there was a concern
with Three Mile Islands. That was my experience. From there, it just
got crazy. Management came back and we staffed up the
Incident Response Center here, and I think we were staffed for at least
three months. MR. CARLSON: Hello, everyone. This is Bob
Carlson, I’m calling you from Afghanistan, and just wanted
to call in and tell — relate a little story to you about my experience
during 9/11, and then where we are ten years later.
I am currently deployed to Afghanistan in Kabul, working
at USAID, in support of the Afghan mission, and, primarily, focusing
on civilian military interactions, and also our reconstruction
efforts here in country. I remember back on September 11, 2001, I was
also deployed at the time to the Balkans, in support
of Operation Joint Forge, as a military Reservist. I remember
returning from a staff meeting that day, and going over to the mess
hall to get something to drink. And, I happened to look up on our video
screen in there, and I saw, I guess at the time I didn’t know it
was live footage of one of the Twin Towers burning in New York City.
I thought it was one of the typical DVDs that they play
when folks are in there eating, and I thought maybe it was Bruce
Willis or Die Hard or something. And then, within minutes the base
camp alarms all sounded, and we went into a lock down mode. And, I
remember surreal it felt seeing the events on 9/11 unfold on TV
thousands of miles away, and then experiencing some of the aftermath
firsthand in a remote corner of the world. Here I am again deployed as a Reservist, as
part of Operation Enduring Freedom here in Afghanistan.
So, I feel like I’ve come full circle in this ten years, in hopes
of making some small contribution and impact in this global world
terror. MAN: During 9/11, when we found out about
the strikes, we were at an annual staff meeting in Austin,
Texas. At the time, I worked for the Texas Department of Health,
and someone had came in and said that there was a rumor that a plane
had run into one of the towers, had struck one of the towers.
In a few minutes, someone had wheeled in a television
screen with a live feed, and what we saw up on the top right-hand
corner of the screen, after watching the first tower burning for a
while, was another plane come in and hit the second tower.
I thought that it might have been an instant replay of
the first one, like a split screen or something. But, in a few
seconds we, and the rest of the world, knew that it was not a replay,
it was not an accident, and that our country was under attack.
And, the next day I drove home, a four-and-a-half hour
drive, and the whole four and a half hours the radio was off, there
was complete silence, and I couldn’t help but feel immense anger
remembering the people, thousands of people burning to death, and
some people jumping out of windows, screaming in agony, because they
knew they weren’t going to survive the fall. And so, I got home and called my recruiter.
I was going to try to reenlist in the military. And, I
didn’t know that there was an age limit on that, so I did not get
to reenlist in the military. So, I started looking for ways to
redirect that anger into something a little more beneficial, a little
more productive. And, two months later I joined the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, and ever since then I have been
performing nuclear material safety and security inspections out
of Region IV office in Arlington, Texas.
MS. WARREN: On 9/11 I was the team leader in the NRC
Threat Assessment Program. Part of our duties was to maintain
liaison with the law enforcement community. So, that morning I was getting ready to go
downtown with senior managers to meet with senior officials
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As we came into Washington,
D.C., and crossed over near the Washington Monument, I looked over
and I saw this big billowing cloud of black smoke.
We got up to the FBI Building, they opened up the door,
and being the least senior person in the car, they said, Bobbie, why
don’t you go out and see what’s going on. The next thing I knew, they closed the door
and drove off. I started walking up to the FBI Building.
Just as I did that, they evacuated their building, and I, fortunately,
saw a colleague of mine from the FBI, and I started to ask what
was going on. He said, “Well, we think there may be other
planes coming in.”
And, I made the decision at that point, I’m not waiting
to see what’s going to happen. I know there’s something bad going on
here, I need to get back to the office. I got on the Metro, actually, beat the officials
back to NRC, went directly into the Operations Center,
started making phone calls, and that was the beginning of a two-and-a-half
month period of working 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, with
our staff, making sure that our senior officials have the best information
possible from the intelligence that we were receiving, which
was quite a bit. This was something we trained for. This was
something we thought about, but I don’t think we really
comprehended that it was going to happen, but I think NRC learned a
lot from those days, and I think we are much better prepared to deal
with something if it does happen again.
I was very proud of the way we reacted, and I was proud
to be part of it.

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