September Morn

September Morn

Eight years ago I walked into mission control at work just like every other day, stopping by to check if there were any large technical issues that needed resolving. Dave was staring at the bank of televisions above the rows of 20 monitors that kept track of the call centers we actively watch all the time.

Normally one screen would be the weather channel, the other a news feed, and the other an alarm panel with rows and rows of Automated Call Distributor (ACD) switch alarms on them, red, green, yellow. This morning two of the screens were showing the same thing — a smoking tower etched against blue sky with smoke streaming. I asked Dave what was up — he said “Some idiot just flew a plane into a building.” 

“You’re kidding – what kind of plane?” was my response — Dave said he wasn’t sure but it looked like a 737. Then came the replay … Dave said something to the effect that it was one hell of an accident or a dumb pilot, and I replied “that’s not an accident — we are under attack.”

He looked at me strangely — somewhat bemused. David probably had not read any Tom Clancy, but I had.  No, I didn’t even know who Osama Bin Laden was but I assumed ill purpose and direction behind the plane’s crash into the World Trade Center tower immediately on seeing the replay.

So I started looking at the screens in the call centers, in between glances at the screen and listening to the commentary.  They seemed normal, but the traffic a bit low with short call queues. The switches were all in good shape, so I walked back to my office to make some calls.

At the time I had faith and confidence in the emergency response departments; if it was an attack it was something they could handle I thought. There weren’t large flames out the sides of the building anymore, and I was hoping the sprinklers would put the fire out…

I knew a mass call event had to be underway so I called the Network Operations Control Center to see what was up. Our cells were swamped, and things were just getting worse, they were recovering the switches fast, but they would just go down again within minutes due to the masses of calls hitting them per second as soon as they were capable of answering. I also found out that morning that we had antennas on the World Trade Center – those were out of commission. Network was scrambling some portable switch units to cover.

So I went back up front and pulled up the network bridge where I could keep an eye on things in Mission control. I called the manager in and asked them about emergency messaging &  if they thought we needed to get something into the call centers.

Then the second plane struck – and I knew that we would need the messaging. I was stunned, but thinking. It was a crisis, but there would be effects… what to do? What to do? I saw the person jump… tears started… but there was nothing I could do. Nothing for him, nothing at the moment for any of them.

On the network bridge I started asking what services we might have in the area, as well as what IT assets. We pulled up a second IT conference bridge to get our emergency responses going, focusing on what we could do to help. Passing out phones, keeping the switches up, could the stores in the area help? … keeping the technology that people needed working, minimizing the effects where we couldn’t get something back.

Soon there were more than twenty conference bridges going, each with their own efforts, and all techs everywhere had been called to task. As one of the few who have worked across all segments of the company, and being the one who usually gets called when things go badly awry I went into a nightmare of popping from bridge to bridge to bridge, sometimes answering questions, sometimes issuing orders, sometimes demanding silence so the techs could work. I was told later that I had told two VP’s to shut up in a pretty direct manner, but I don’t know who and at the time it didn’t matter.

Some bridges were pandemonium, but most were calm: people actively doing what they could do to keep the network whole, the infrastructure working and the systems going. We got the emergency messaging out to the switches, we put some call gapping into effect, and things were starting to get better.

Then….. the building came down. I watched on the monitor, from the side while fielding some questions on the bridge… then stopped the questions. The cable vaults beneath the building and all the people above them crushed, just so.. just like that, amidst all the dust, a thousand lives stopped, and all the network cables beneath their feet that nobody thinks on that tie us together moment by moment all ripped asunder. The collapse created a massive hole in our hearts and in our networks, it would take long to heal both.

The rest of that day is still a blur and I don’t remember much of it — there were a thousand questions, and hours of directing efforts. In the end we sent all the call centers home. Our payment IVR’s had been in a building near the trade centers, they were cut off. So we put in motion a rebuild and disaster recovery effort in North Carolina. There were redirects in routing to tend to, there were a thousand other things.

Finally hours later they sent us all home, closing all of the call centers, something that had never been done before or since… but really I had been one of the lucky ones that day. I had something to focus upon, something that that had to get done, something besides the horror, the sorrow, and the pain to dwell upon.

It’s eight years later, and I wish that I could tell you that the nightmare is over.

It’s not.

There are still people wishing us harm inspired and encouraged by an evil ideology. They will not stop and neither should we. Defeating evil is never something instant, it’s not as easy as killing one person, or conquering a country or two. This is a long war fought at many levels, and our resolve must be both solid and enduring. It’s important to recognize what the evil is, and where it originates.

Like all evils, it’s really about power – Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut Tahrir, Quds Force, Hamas, and all like organizations are bent on gaining power over the Islamic world. While they paint us as the great satans, we are just one of many ongoing perceived ills to the Islamist extremist worldview. For both the tyrants and the extremists it’s easier to externalize problems  than to look at the mirror.

Some of it is fallout and lashback by disillusioned marxist Islamists leftovers after the cold war. Some of it is a neo-luddite movement – people who don’t want their tribal structures to change in a world where they must either change, or accept isolation and non-participation in a manner similar to the Amish in America.

Some of it is centuries old enmity over religions and land, some is sectarian feuding within Islam. The greater bulk of it however is a yearning by people for freedoms they don’t have in most Islamic countries.

No single one of those would be enough — all of those goods and ills are marshalled and tied together by the murder mullahs and death clerics, they are all sores and wounds kept continually open by incessant picking at them.  For terrorists and insurgents to survive there must be a base of sympathizers. By marshalling all of those causes, and by putting on masks that mirror the popular local causes the Islamists gain recruits.

We must take all of those causes away, and show the world the true face of evil — how it adopts sometimes even the good causes, like that of democracy and that of freedom, and consumes them to feed their fires of hate.

The record of the past eight years speaks loudly to all now – 2,752 people died on 9/11 — but since that time the terrorists have murdered ten times or more that many Muslims. It’s not about Islam to the terrorists although they wear that mask. It’s all about power, and evil, and personal glory.

If you think terror will help your cause you destroy your cause – because no matter what you see in our glaring media or screeching political theaters the firm core of America lies beyond the lights and beyond that noise. The anger is as pure and as powerful now as it was that morning, but now it’s directed by reason. The heart of America is hardened with unwavering resolve that will not contenance terror, that will not waver, that will not forget, and that will never forgive the evil that September Morn.