Tuesday, September 11, 2001

By Jeff Gainer

(Author’s note: A somewhat shorter, edited version of this essay appeared in the 14 November 2001 issue of the Cutter IT Journal E-Mail Advisor.) 

It has become a sad cliché among Americans. Virtually all of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing on the afternoon of November 22, 1963:


I am barely four years old, playing in my sandbox in the warm Indian summer afternoon. My mother comes outside, tells me something has happened to President Kennedy. I do not fully understand. Because of family and political connections, I am under the impression that the President is an uncle or cousin who doesn't visit very often. Apparently, he is too busy. My mother gives me a radio to take to my father's office, 100 feet down the sidewalk. He will want to listen to the news, she says. As I go down the sidewalk, my mother returns to the house. We have a television. There is only one channel.


Tuesday, September 11, 2001:


Seconds after the telephone call, I turn on the television and see the second jet crash through the south tower, slicing through steel, glass, people, exploding through that tower where I had worked so many years ago as a rookie stockbroker, where I had met the woman who would later become my wife.


There are conflicting reports on the television news; too many pieces of raw information come at once. I turn to the Internet for more news sources.


Internet access in the small Colorado town where I live is dial-up. The local provider number answers, but retrieving two brief e-mails is unusually, excruciatingly slow. On the Web, none of the news sites are available. The browser reports that the sites cannot be found. I try them all: Reuters, AP, and the major television  networks. I try the White House. None respond.


The Internet was not designed to be the commercial information pipeline it has become, I reflect. It was designed as a decentralized communications channel that could survive a nuclear war. Today, the Internet receives another unplanned, real-world stress test.


By mid-afternoon, after hours of the endless replaying of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Yahoo news site begins to occasionally, slowly respond. I send a few frantic e-mails and confirm that my colleagues, most of them anyway, are safe. An undetermined amount of telecommunications equipment has been destroyed in lower Manhattan. Telecommunications networks are heavily stressed, but operating, Reuters reports. Cellular communications in the northeastern US, however, are stressed beyond capacity. All commercial air flights are grounded.


Later in the day, the President returns to the White House. He has to be visible, reassuring. He departs from Marine One, executes a crisp salute to the Marine guard, and strides directly to the Oval Office, alone. Later that evening, he addresses the nation. “We stand together to win the war against terrorism,” he says.


Wednesday, September 12:


Reports from New York remark on the eerie quiet, no traffic, no sound. I step outside my office. This small town is high in the desert, equidistant between two major airports. I look east, toward Denver, an hour's flight away. There are none of the ever-present contrails. I look west, toward Salt Lake City. Again, nothing, no planes, no trails, not even the daily military overflights.


Spam begins to trickle into my mailbox. On the news, the reporters and the President refer to The War.


Thursday, September 13:


Spam now tumbles into my e-mail box in its usual levels. Each is automatically filtered into the “Spam” folder. I receive an e-mail from a relative who works near the Pentagon. He says he is okay. His work is classified. I have never asked what he does.


Outside there are still no jet contrails, but now there are periodic overflights by pairs of F-16s. They are flying lower than usual, and appear to have missiles fixed under their wings.


Friday, September 14:


A Reuters news report summarizes heightened fears by US executives of cyber-attacks. The Web news sites respond, but slowly. There are news reports about American flags being sold out. Web-based flag dealers report that their sites are overwhelmed. Airports begin to reopen.


Friday, October 19:


A month later. There are now occasional sounds of commercial aircraft. Outside, there are a few contrails, east to west, west to east. The fighter jet overflights are fewer. Internet access is almost normal.


The New York Times reports that replacing the technology from the WTC attacks could cost at least US $3.2 billion. It could be more than $7 billion.


Some companies have relocated from lower Manhattan and have resumed operations under disaster-recovery plans. All the planning for Y2K certainly paid off for many companies that would otherwise not have bothered to create a disaster-recovery plan.




With two months to reflect on what has changed and what will change, I foresee an increased role for IT in repairing the physical damage and in forming the changes we will see in business and government. I am usually cautious about making predictions, but I feel confident in these:



What will change most of all, however, is the way we do business. New airline security measures will result in a dramatic decrease in the number of brief business trips. Denver International Airport recently announced a recommendation that travelers arrive at the airport at least four hours before their scheduled flight time. Certainly, consultants such as myself will continue to travel to client sites for essential on-site work, but the once commonplace day trip for a single meeting or lunch with a client will no longer be feasible. The reason will not be fear, as the terrorists would have it, but simply time. Business travelers will need to evaluate the worth of waiting in airports for up to eight hours for a one-hour meeting.


Frequent flyers are accustomed to shorter airline check-in areas such as the airlines now provide for us. Security checkpoints, however are more vexing and more democratic. The business traveler who routinely logs 100,000+ miles per year waits with the budget leisure traveler. For those of us who already spend many precious (and unbillable) hours of waiting will, for a time at least, wait longer. It is likely that airlines will cooperate with airport security to provide dedicated security checkpoints for documented elite-status frequent flyers. These dedicated checkpoints will require sophisticated identification, possibly referencing a retinal scan database.


And finally, we in the IT field may finally begin to use the tools we have created. Last year in this space (“The Low Tech of High Technology,” March 14, 2000), I pondered the paradox of an industry that creates high-tech tools to facilitate distance work—but this same industry doesn't use the tools itself. And then, maybe, like Peter Drucker, I'll finally have my own in-home videoconferencing facilities. And perhaps, my frequent-flyer miles will begin to dwindle away.


--Jeff Gainer



For those frequent travelers who have accumulated large numbers of airline and hotel points: you can help the recovery efforts in New York and Washington by donating part or all of your frequent-flyer and guest points. Simply contact the airline or hotel chain and let them know to which charity you would like to donate your miles.



(c)2001 Cutter Information Corp. All rights reserved. This article has been reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Cutter Information Corp., a provider of information resources for IT professionals worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor, a supplement to Cutter IT Journal. www.cutter.com/itjournal

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