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