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FROM: Leadership in Dangerous Situations : A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services, and First Responders. Edited by Patrick J. Sweeney, Michael D. Matthews, and Paul B. Lester (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011).


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Looking back, it was almost funny how we were all detached emotionally from the emergency we were responding to. Our marked police van, with its lights and sirens blaring, was racing down the center lane of the FDR Drive. We, the officers inside, were trying to consider what type of stupendous pilot error landed an aircraft into the wrc tower. As the van screeched to a halt near the site, our "therapy"-or was it avoidance-of nervously joking about the incident ended quickly as the severity of the event became apparent. Now, it wasn't just one tower burning, it was two. People were running scared; the NYPD radio was filled with a mixture of orders, screams, and confusion; and the towers in the distance had small items dripping off their sides, like drops of glue out of a bottle. One officer cleared his throat and said what we already knew: "Holy shit, those are people jumping out of the windows!"

I quickly lost all sense of time and purpose; I think we all did. Our sergeant offered the one and only instruction of that day: "Everyone stay together." What else could she say? Each of us was trying to remember the ride in the van ... . Did we talk tactics? Did we have an emergency response plan for this, an obvious terrorist attack? Or should we just go on a quick search and rescue mission, a mission for which we really didn't have enough training either? It didn't matter in the end; just a few minutes after our arrival, the majestic south tower collapsed. The memory of civilians scampering for their lives, humans seeking cover in any nook and cranny available, dust and debris filling the air and our lungs, was a sure indication that if there was a hell on earth, we were in it at that moment.

-Officer Walsh, New York City Police Department, assigned to respond to the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001