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SAP Analytics
Thought Leadership

20 Years On - 9/11: Reflecting on My Experience

Posted by
David Den Boer
David Den Boer
on Sat, Sep 11, 2021 @ 11:09 AM
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I first wrote the below blog post on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in America. As I reflect on the world since then, many subsequent global disruption events have taken place with military conflict, economic turmoil, and even a global pandemic! This volatility serves to underscore the criticality of optimized analytics platforms, and my words of a decade ago are still applicable today:

“…our software enables companies to better respond to economic uncertainty – whether it is changing currency rates, fluctuating commodity prices, or terrorist attacks – it is our mission to make sure that corporations are as prepared as possible to successfully weather those storms.”

May our collective efforts: consultants, vendors, and clients - working in partnership – produce effective platforms that help temper and mitigate economic collateral damage from tragic events that unfold in our global community.

9/11: Reflecting on My Experience – first published to recognize the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Like other watershed moments in history, here in the US, nearly everyone alive at the time remembers where they were on 9/11. My story is similar to millions of Americans in that the events of that day were simply unforgettable.

My personal perspective of that event began the day before on 9/10/2001. I had been employed at OutlookSoft for over a year as the Director of Services in the Western Region and had already completed five EPM implementations around the world. My experience qualified me to conduct a training class on September 11 for new consultants from the US, Canada, and Europe in the Stamford, Connecticut Marriott hotel, just north of the New York City metro area.

I awoke early on the 10th, and like many early mornings, I departed from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport and was quite pleased I had flown so many miles as to finally earn a spot in First Class on most flights. Arriving in Cleveland with time to spare, I easily made my connection on Continental Airlines for Hartford, Connecticut, and took my seat in the first row of the plane…1C. Nice! As I took my seat, I popped on my earphones and started to think about the upcoming training class and what I had to do the next day.

As the seasoned travelers boarded and walked past me to take their seats, I became increasingly aware of a banging sound coming from the jetway. I looked up and noticed a tall thin man wearing a strikingly garish jacket that had concentric gold bands on his sleeves. That wasn’t the most shocking thing about this guy - his obviously cheap and ill-fitting jacket looked like a pilot costume someone might wear for Halloween. On top of the clothing, he had a larger-than-normal rollerboard suitcase…in bright turquoise color. Wow! I thought to myself. No pilot has a suitcase that is flimsy or loud. They typically use black, heavy-duty, and durable TravelPro luggage. This was not just something you didn’t see often: You NEVER see this.

The flight attendant showed him to the cockpit, where it became apparent he was requesting permission to “jumpseat”: Sitting in the fold-down seat behind the active pilots in the cockpit. I thought nothing of this until I heard the flight attendant say to the pilot “He’s not a Continental pilot, so it’s up to you to allow him to fly in here or not”. Absent today’s “lockdown security”, on September 10th, this incident didn’t register any special concern.

The odd pilot was on the plane, standing behind the two Continental pilots in the cockpit, not saying a word for a couple of minutes. Evidently, they could feel his stare to the point where I remember a pilot turning around as if to say, “Well? What are you going to do?” They turned to look at him, and I don’t believe either party spoke.  

At one point he nervously tried to squeeze his turquoise suitcase in the cockpit – seemingly unaware it could never fit and only succeeding in blocking the cockpit and lavatory doors. Finally, he left his suitcase in the cockpit doorway and walked off the plane to speak with the gate agent – returning and then leaving again.  When he did this the third time, the flight attendant got sick of his antics,  grabbed his suitcase, and threw it unceremoniously into the jetway as she mumbled, “I don’t have to take this crap.” The man walked on again, and I thought he was going to confront her about the rough treatment of his suitcase, but he simply went into the jetway to retrieve his bag. I never saw him again and my flight proceeded without further incident.

Early on the morning of September 11, the training class in the basement of the Stamford Connecticut Marriott (just north of New York) began. Within the hour, a group slowly congregated around a small TV in the hallway that hotel security had changed from the typical meeting room schedules to a live television feed. As the early reports of a light plane hitting the World Trade Center gave way to the horrifying reality of the commercial jets being hijacked and used as weapons, our ability to focus on training was completely disrupted. All the people previously distributed to the meeting rooms were huddled around a very small TV set…staring in disbelief. Nervous chatter gave way to stunned silence and rushed mobile phone calls to family around the country.

My particular meeting room had windows on two walls that were at street level in downtown Stamford. Throughout the morning, we watched police emerge in the streets evolving into the parking of an armored personnel carrier that blocked the entrance to a government office. I distinctly remember people walking around in a state of shock and disbelief. By dinner time, several of us huddled in a lounge on the top floor of the hotel that had windows where you could see the smoking wreckage of the twin towers and the faint glow of rescue worker’s lights against the New York skyline. No one could find the words to comment. The next days, training went on in with an admittedly half-hearted pall cast over our sessions, but we continued on.

Like every other air traveler trying to fly out at the end of that terrible week, I was stranded. By the time Friday came, restrictions were slowly being lifted, with the New York area obviously last to have any return to normalcy. I decided to stay on my original itinerary from Hartford to Newark and on to Phoenix. It was clear that a successful departure was not assured at all.

As I arrived to board my propjet aircraft for the flight south to Newark, I remember a burly-looking military person going through security. They tried to keep it quiet, but clearly, this was a new process the airport staff was struggling to accommodate. I watched as he discreetly sidestepped the metal detector and when the gate agent checked his credentials, he boarded 20 minutes before anyone else. “Air Marshal,” I thought. On a 40 or so seat propeller-driven aircraft, it seemed rather extreme to have an armed presence, but I have to admit, I was glad to have the security.

The plane took off and lumbered into the air. Within minutes, we were skirting Manhattan. It seemed like the maneuvers to avoid what I assumed was a no-fly zone over the city took forever but I vividly remember looking out towards ground zero and seeing the smoldering debris and still frantic activity. It was clear the destroyed towers were a massive wound that would take a long time to clean up, much less get over emotionally.

Upon landing in Newark, I quickly realized that air travel was far from being back to normal. After all, this was the first day of resuming flight operations after a 3-4 day hiatus, but you would have thought it had been 6 years without flights. People were clearly scared and for good reason. At one point a SWAT team, 15 or so police personnel carrying assault rifles, led by barking dogs, came through our terminal shouting through bullhorns “Everybody stay where you are, do not get up!”  Rumours abounded: “I heard someone found a bomb!” Of course, there wasn’t a bomb, but that incident underscored the jitters our country experienced as we tried to get back up on our wobbly legs.

Fortunately, my flight from Newark to Phoenix did go off as planned, albeit several hours late. All the travellers and personnel on and around my plane took a collective deep sigh and mustered the courage to resume daily living, one seemingly small step at a time. Eventually, I landed in Phoenix to the happy rejoice of my wife and son.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit, I immediately turned on the television to catch up on the 9/11 news. I was half-awake with coffee in hand, and I noticed that the news ticker on the bottom of the screen said, “FAA now believes hijackers managed to “jumpseat” during dry runs. This gave them access to the cockpit and may have made commandeering the planes easier by allowing them to slit pilot’s throats from behind while cockpit door remained closed.”

The hair on the back of my neck instantly stood up as I remembered what I had witnessed during my flight on 9/10/2011. I immediately called the widely publicized tip line and told them my observations during boarding in Cleveland. A few days later, an FBI agent and a member of the Defense Intelligence Agency visited my home and recorded my story. I never heard back and didn’t hear any confirmation other than myriad stories about ‘dry runs’ and how the terrorists congregated on the east coast in the days before the attack. It could have been one of them…or it may not have been.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, everyone is familiar with how the world’s economy was rocked. Layoffs, particularly in the US were common, and OutlookSoft was no exception. Other than the Europeans, most of the trainees I had just met in Connecticut were soon laid off in response to the dire economic forecast. Many of our software clients were struggling as well.

I happen to be a military veteran, but I wasn’t a soldier, police officer, firefighter, or other ‘first responder’ on the front line nor in the wake of 9/11. However, the events of that day and the economic and social aftermath led me to view what I did as an Outlooksoft consultant, and what I do today – the leader of a globally successful EPM implementation firm - with a renewed sense of urgency.

The solutions we implement make corporations more successful and corporations are inherently social institutions that bolster the strength of our communities. A profitable corporation hires more employees, donates more to charity, and provides support for myriad secondary services firms - many communities depend on the health of the corporations that are located within it. If our software enables companies to better respond to economic uncertainty – whether it is changing currency rates, fluctuating commodity prices, or terrorist attacks – it is our mission to make sure that corporations are as prepared as possible to successfully weather those storms.  The strength of our local and ultimately global community depends on the preparedness of these corporate institutions to withstand such challenges.

You will see this passion to drive better performance for our customers, and ultimately the global economy, displayed in everything Column5 does.

And, as I reflect on my 9/11 experience, I also have to commend the fortitude of Column5 employees around the world.  They remain dedicated to our important mission; regardless of rigorous travel schedules that often result in true sacrifices for them and their families, uncertain work environments, and a tentative economic landscape – and they always deliver their very best to the enterprises we serve.

If your BPC environment is failing to meet the challenges of our volatile times, reach out for an Assessment. We can help get you on a path to optimize your technology for the future

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Topics: OutlookSoft, Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), Business Intelligence (BI)


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