Every American will remember precisely what we were doing on Sept. 11, 2001. I was four months pregnant and Credit Union Times senior Washington reporter at the time. That was the day Credit Union House was scheduled to open, and I was getting ready to cover the grand opening celebration.
Our editor called me and said a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. At the time the thought was that it may be an accident. I flippantly asked, “Were there any credit unions in there?” The second plane hit while we were on the phone, and there was no question that this was no accident.
Even though I had heard the news of the plane hitting the Pentagon, I started into D.C., wondering what I was doing bringing a child into a world like this. On my way, I stopped at a pay phone–cell towers were busy–to call CUNA and see if I should still try to get into the city. The answer was clear: Everyone was trying to get out. I turned around and drove back home.
Credit Union Times wanted to commemorate 9/11 in a respectful manner so I’ve asked our reporters who were in the credit union community at the time to share their memories to honor that sorrowful day.
Most unforgettable was writing about the tremendous–and let me say instant–outpouring of donations and aid that emerged from credit unions everywhere directed at helping the New York firefighters, police and their families and for the families of those lost in the towers. I recall seeing the first stark image of a credit union board member, I think it was from a Korean credit union in Manhattan, reported lost on 9/11. And then there were all those local 9/11 shrines that credit unions were starting or funding from Kentucky to Arizona.
I was in Credit Union Times West Palm Beach, Fla., office listening to the radio when news broke that a plane hit one of the towers. Three of us rushed downstairs to the NewsMax office, which had a television, and just stood there as we saw the second plane hit. In that second, I remember mentally ticking off all my cousins, friends and fiancé’s family who worked near the Twin Towers. Then they went down, and it became a blur. We had to stop watching and somehow start reporting while still in this fog of asking, “Did that really happen?”
I was working as communications director at NASCUS and was meeting with Mary Martha Fortney when her son called to tell her a plane hit the World Trade Center. NASCUS had a small black-and-white television, and we gathered around it to watch as a plane hit the second tower. When the news of the plane going into the Pentagon came, we moved to one of the balconies facing the direction of the Pentagon. We could see the flames leaping up from the now-burning building.
The NASCUS office building was evacuated. Some staffers were on planes to California to finalize preparations for the annual meeting, which wound up being postponed, and the staffers were stranded when the government grounded all planes.
A few months later when I started working for Credit Union Times, one of my early stories addressed Municipal Credit Union, which left its ATMs dispensing funds to help members even though they were offline. In the end, almost all the members who overdrew their accounts at the time paid the money back.
Then and now, I struggle to describe my reaction when I saw the first numbing video of an airplane flying directly into one of the Twin Towers in New York–a dizzying mix of disbelief, anger, sadness and tears. Many, many tears.
That day fell on a Tuesday, the day before a production deadline. What followed for me was writing a series of stories on the impact of the attacks on airline-linked credit unions and later, a story on how government loan programs aided small businesses affected financially by the tragedy.
I covered how credit unions were dealing with an emergency White House order that immediately froze the assets of suspected persons and organizations with ties to terrorist groups.
As it relates to credit unions, I have a more sincere understanding of how some in the industry have the ability to strike a balance between making quick adjustments in the face of adversity and avoiding kneejerk reactions when it comes to protecting their members and staff.
A new focus on disaster preparedness and recovery was a major result of 9/11. That was particularly true among core processors, who 10 years ago perhaps held an even more critical role in the overall infrastructure of credit unions than they do today.
I talked to several credit unions and vendors with operations at and near Ground Zero in the immediate days afterward and for the one-year anniversary, wrote a piece that caught up with XCEL FCU, which had a branch in one of the towers and worked with its core processor to get transactions up and going again.
That horrific day in 2001 also ignited a new emphasis on service bureaus, audits and compliance and regulatory requirements as the war on terrorism got under way.