Twenty Years Post-September 11: A Personal Resilience Journey

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September 11 Fireman's Memorial

A different kind of blog

Twenty years post-September 11: a personal resilience journey is a different blog than I usually share. Many will be marking today with anniversary events. Others will memorialize it with a tribute to those fallen or injured in the September 11 Attacks. Today is highly personal, but I am aware that others have much more direct stories to tell. In light of that, I first honor and have endless respect for everyone who lived and worked in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at that time.

You may not realize that my Disaster Empire blog directly references how I started this work over eighteen years ago. Like many others, I remember exactly where I was on 9/11. At that time, I helped administer a non-profit program, now called the Children’s Trust, lead by Suzin Bartley for families in Massachusetts. We conducted an on-site review at a local area program that got interrupted when a call came to the mother working there. Her son worked near the World Trade Center, and the caller was worried for him. The son ended up being okay, he was one of the lucky ones, but work stopped there as the magnitude of the event escalated. 

Statehouse 911 Memorial 2018

My start in disaster recovery

After finding a TV in the basement of the program’s building, we ended up dispersing. Everyone realized something momentous was happening, and I remember how eerie it was to drive back towards Boston with almost no one on the roads. At the time, we did not know if more attacks would happen across the country. As we all realized the magnitude of what was occurring, businesses shut down, and people went home. Many recognize this as a watershed moment for disaster recovery and business continuity. 

I ended up driving to be with my family on Cape Cod, forgetting to check in with my supervisor, who was frantically trying to reach me to ensure I was okay. Cell phones were not yet prevalent. Of course, no American was all right on that day. Little did I know that September 11 would change the direction of my life forever. In 2003, I decided that I wanted to give back, and 21 months after the event, I found myself down in New York, working for the ARC’s September 11 Recovery Program. As challenging as the work was, I found an affinity for it. The team I led headed up the Mental Health Intake Unit, processing 1,000 disaster recovery claims from residents south of Canal Street, family members of decedents, and first responders to the attacks.  

911 Bagpipers Memorial Service

So proud and indebted to you all

So, today, I want to give a special thanks and honor all of my fellow American Red Cross September 11 Recovery Program (SRP’rs). You started me on the road with disaster recovery, which was also a personal resilience journey. Like many, I struggled to make sense of the world after the 9/11 attacks and had hit an emotional low. However, the experience with SRP renewed my faith and a sense of purpose. 

We did good work, and it inspired me to continue the journey when I returned to Massachusetts a year later. I joined the MA Department of Mental Health as part of their recovery program. What I imagined would be a two-year grant program became eight years of building the disaster behavioral health program and continuity of operations planning. It then led me to Liberty Mutual in the private sector and resilience in business continuity. For years, I continued to mark the day somehow, with the pics here from the Massachusetts Fireman’s memorial I joined each year when I still lived in Boston.

The 9/11 Tribute in Light had become a fixture in the annual remembrance of the attacks. All of you from SRP are my rays of light, beacons of hope, and keeping me grounded in why I do this work. Unlike me, many of you were there at Ground Zero from the very beginning. From all walks of life and backgrounds, you gave of yourself to help your fellow citizens. Many of you have continued to give back in the work you do today, and for that, I thank you. Twenty years post-September 11, I continue my resilience journey. Stay safe, continue to do good, and be well. 

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