PERSONAL ACCOUNT: Despite the crisis comms plan, doing what feelsright is sometimes the best course of action

I joined my former colleagues of Windows on the World, the

restaurant that occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the World Trade

Center, to help with the crisis of September 11. I worked there two

years ago, and I decided to call the owner to see if I could help out in

any way.



The core crisis team was assembled: the Windows president/owner David

Emil, plus the catering director, chef, general manager, HR director,

and the chef at Beacon (a sister restaurant). I arrived with my laptop

and flip chart ready to do what I would if I were presenting to a

Ketchum client. But as soon as I walked in the door, I realized it

wouldn't be that kind of meeting.



The survivors were asked to meet at Beacon at 11am on Wednesday.

Needless to say, despair was deep, but it was somehow comforting to be

around the familiar faces.



Everyone's eyes were directed toward the door to see who had survived

the disaster. The real heroes were the people who turned up just to make

their existence known. They had lost their colleagues, and they had lost

their livelihoods. In fact, anyone who's ever passed through the doors

of that restaurant came. The tone was very somber.



My role was essentially to draft a statement for the

windowsontheworld.com website, as well as to get that statement approved

by the police department (carrying a hotline number requires police

approval). I also helped to man the hotline, and this is something I

will never forget: the people calling in were nieces, brothers-in-law,

friends, and associates calling on behalf of the people they knew. Those

directly affected were, naturally, unable to make the calls.



I expected extreme frustration and even hysteria, but instead people

just wanted to relay their queries about their relatives. One niece

called to say her uncle dined at the restaurant club for breakfast every

Tuesday.



People were very polite, and ended their calls with a "thank you very

much."



Everyone was wandering around with different emergency phone numbers,

and of course, all employee records were destroyed. It was chaotic, so

we collected what numbers we had, put them on the laptop, and made an

alphabetized list of all the staff.



I can't say how many people were lost. There might have been around 350

people there in the morning, and maybe 100 were staff. People who worked

there in the mornings included the hostess, the cooks, the banquet

staff, the cellar master, the housekeeping, and the attendants.



I think the most important thing to do when faced with such a situation

is identify the leadership team. However, being able to do something,

anything in fact, was very cathartic. We had a new crisis comms plan

prepared in January at Ketchum, and that helped. But you soon learn that

in those situations, more than anything, you just have to do what feels

right.



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