On a beautiful, sunny autumn morning in 2001, business as usual in Manhattan came to a halt when an airplane hit the World Trade Center. While East Coast commuters tuned in to news updates and West Coasters awoke to coverage, the American Red Cross was busy mobilizing disaster relief workers to respond to what most presumed to be an accident—a pilot error or perhaps a mechanical failure.
Then, another plane struck the second of the twin towers in New York, and everything changed.
“We realized we had a much bigger task ahead of us,” said Red Cross Vice President of Domestic Disaster Response Armond T. Mascelli.
Two additional hijacked planes made indelible marks on the country’s landscape that day—one striking the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another crashing in Shanksville, Pa. In all three locations, local Red Cross workers, mostly volunteers, were on the scene to provide emergency assistance—meeting the urgent, critical needs of survivors and responders.
American Red Cross workers provide weary firemen with cold drinks and snacks in the aftermath of the attack on New York. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
By afternoon, the Greater New York Chapter of the Red Cross had opened 13 shelters for people who suddenly found themselves homeless or stranded in New York . The shelters offered meals, medical care and crisis counseling. In addition, local chapters from all three of the directly impacted areas delivered food, water and supplies—such as clean towels, shirts and socks—to first responders and emergency crews
Across the country, local Red Cross chapters began to mobilize trained workers to support relief operations in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Disaster volunteers already at the scene were providing crisis counseling and mental health assistance. Volunteers gave support to family members and airline personnel who had lost loved ones or coworkers on the flights and helped passengers stranded across the country when air traffic was grounded.
In the months that followed the attacks, the Red Cross continued to provide relief on the ground through feeding sites and respite centers—more than 100 were opened in all—offering responders and work crews places to eat, clean up and rest.
People from all walks of life spontaneously showed up at Red Cross offices and buildings, even forming lines out the doors, to contribute to the relief effort.
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
Legacy of Compassion
Although the horrific images cannot be forgotten, images of compassion and self-sacrifice shine brightly through the dust and darkness of that day.
The world saw firefighters, police and rescue workers selflessly running towards disaster to help those they could reach. It witnessed everyday folks stopping in the midst of chaos and risking their own safety to pull others out of harm’s way. People from all walks of life in cities across the country were seen lined up outside Red Cross offices to volunteer, give blood and contribute money to help people they’d never met.
Spontaneous vigils and memorials sprang up everywhere and hastily-crafted signs containing messages of gratitude and hope were hung for the world to see. News reports included images of strangers coming together, shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-in-hand, as if they were long-lost friends and family, grieving and supporting one another.
Terror may have been the intent of those who orchestrated the hijackings on that day in September, but the legacy of that painful time in history has become one of compassion.
The Road to Recovery
“I’m not the type that runs to a therapist all the time but, you know, it was helpful knowing that you weren’t alone with some of the grief and anger and other feelings. You could meet with other people and the counselors from the Red Cross were so good and, I don’t know, warm and considerate, not pushy,” said Robert Reeg, New York City ﬁreﬁghter disabled by a serious injury on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We felt funny for the ﬁrst time in our lives having to need assistance from someone else. But [the Red Cross] was great. I can tell you they were really marvelous,” said Jack Zelmanowitz, a Brooklyn resident whose brother, Abe, perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I’m getting a chance to tell the stories of those that are lost, spend time with their family members, spend time with other people who had very similar experiences to mine…this has been the most incredible healing for me,” said Linda Gormley, who was evacuated from Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, and now leads tours as part of a
Red Cross-funded program at the Tribute Center near ground zero.
“I don’t care how long I have to work, I’ll work until I drop, because I get to do something,” said Michael Zeiss, who worked at the Greater New York Chapter of the Red Cross on Sept. 11, 2001, and became Deputy Director for Planning at the September 11th Recovery Program.
(Photo Credits: American Red Cross)
The impact of the hijackings did not end when the sun set on Sept. 11, 2001—neither did the Red Cross response end when the emergency relief phase of the operation concluded. The continued generosity of our financial supporters enabled the organization to continue services, aiding survivors in their long-term recovery.
“The Red Cross was humbled to be a vehicle for the compassion of people across the country who ultimately contributed more than a billion dollars to the organization for vital response and recovery actions,” said Mascelli.
Those contributions became the Red Cross Liberty Disaster Relief Fund (Liberty Fund). The legacy of the public’s generous support ensured that the Red Cross—with its network of volunteers and partners—has been able to provide support for some of the financial, medical, mental and emotional needs of those impacted by the attacks.
The September 11th Recovery Program, a separate initiative of the Red Cross, focused entirely on those families affected by the terrorist attacks. This program enabled the organization to provide a uniform level of services using the donated funds and to plan a delivery system to provide longer-term relief for three to five years.
In the years since the attacks, contributors to the Liberty Fund have reached out through the Red Cross September 11th Recovery Program to help more than 60,000 individuals and families—including more than 500 families outside the United States. Those assisted included bereaved families; survivors who suffered physically and/or emotionally; rescue, recovery and clean-up workers and their families; residents of lower Manhattan and workers who lost their income or jobs as a results of the attacks.
Other Lessons and Growth
Out of tragedy can come positive change for the future. Many new initiatives and changes evolved as a result of the Red Cross disaster relief efforts of Sept. 11.
Within weeks of the attacks, the Red Cross launched a nationwide, toll-free hotline offering assistance and referral information for anyone seeking help from the Red Cross. The hotline has become a permanent fixture within relief operations for localized information.
Although the Red Cross had responded to the Oklahoma City bombing, Sept. 11 was the impetus behind its development of a Weapons of Mass Destruction/Terrorism service delivery plan for responding to man-made disasters. It also led to increased educational materials for adults and children about preparing for, responding to and coping with the physical and emotional aspects of acts of terrorism.
One initiative resulting from the tragedy involves not only the Red Cross but also other similar organizations and agencies. It was the creation of the Coordinated Assistance Network (CAN), which allows relief agencies to—with client authorization—share vital information between participating agencies. This enables individuals or families requiring assistance to present information and tell their stories only once in order to access a full array of aid and emergency services.
The Real Story of Sept. 11
The real story of Sept. 11 isn’t in the numbers or statistics that are so often quoted. The real story is the people who survived that day and those who gave of their time, energy and money to help.
It is a story best told by the people involved in their own words. The Red Cross September 11 th Recovery Program has created a Web site (www.redcross.org/911legacy/) that encompasses the overall response and recovery effort. The site embraces the heartbreaking and inspiring stories and pays homage to those individuals, organizations, partners and others who supported the humanitarian response, leaving behind a legacy of compassion.
The Red Cross and its partners continue to provide services to those affected by the attacks. At this, the five-year anniversary of the attacks, the Red Cross also has prepared a summary report of its emergency response and the work of its September 11th Recovery Program. The report, which is available for download at Redcross.org, includes the services provided and personal accounts taken from the legacy Web site.
The American Red Cross thanks the men, women, children, partners and companies across the country and throughout the world that helped lead its Sept. 11 disaster relief efforts. Loved ones became victims; victims became heroes; strangers became friends; neighbors became caregivers and the American public extended their hands and opened their hearts, and, for that, we honor you all.