Few of us will ever forget the events of September 11th 2001. The news footage and the countless documentaries of what happened seem to trigger memories in us all of where we were and what we were doing at the time.
And I’m sure, like me, most of us ask ourselves – what would I have done had I been working at the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York that day when hijacked aircraft struck both the North and South Towers?
Some who were there found themselves in an unthinkable situation, where escape was simply not possible. Others had the means to escape, but either through fear or simply not knowing what to do, failed to evacuate.
Then there were the heroes, such as Welles Crowther, a young investment banker. He directed many who were lost in the dark and the wreckage of the 104th floor of the South Tower to the stairway and then re-entered the building at least three times to help others. He is credited with saving at least 18 lives. His body was found alongside a group of firefighters 6 months after the collapse of the tower. They had been entering the building one last time to free more people.
Rick Rescorla was security chief for Morgan Stanley at the WTC. He anticipated the disaster and evacuated most of the Morgan Stanley staff from the South Tower before the second aircraft struck. Early advice had been to stay put, but Mr Rescorla stuck to his meticulous evacuation plan and got people out early. All but 3 of 3,700 Morgan Stanley employees survived. Rick Rescorla was one of those who perished. Like Welles Crowther he put the needs of others first and continued to assist until it was too late to help anymore.
I believe we can all learn an important lesson from Rick Rescorla. I’m not suggesting everyone should be a hero. It takes a very special kind of person to act selflessly in the face of extreme adversity. What we should learn from Rick Rescorla is to plan ahead for disastrous events.
It’s good that we ask ourselves what we would have done had we been there. Because should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, it could actually save us. Research has shown that those who rehearse in their minds how they should act when faced with disaster are far more likely to survive.
It’s important that we remember those who lost their lives 10 years ago. But I believe we should also mark the anniversary of September 11th by reviewing our own evacuation plans where we work, both as individuals and as organisations. I’m sure that would be the kind of tribute the likes of Welles Crowther and Rick Rescorla would truly appreciate.