September 11 Digital Archive






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RC Story: Story

As Minneapolis Area Chapter office was just opening, all present and those coming into the building gathered around the TV in the lunchroom in disbelief. It became evident that we would be affected as a chapter in the mid-west also we opened our EOC as a call-center just in time for a flood of calls from the public which went severyal days 24 hours and later for extended hours. A local TV affiliate set up a remote studio in our building with reporters doing interviews regularly with staff, volunteers, blood and financial donors, and with our volunteer mental health team members.

RC Story: Response

September 23, to October 14, 2001

Response to the
9/11/01 attack on the

Robert N. Munson, MSW, LISW
Director Emergency Services

The American Red Cross sent me to New York City for a three-week assignment to help begin a response to grieving foreign nationals who had lost family members in the World Trade Center attack. The assignment was because I am a member of the International Family Linking On-call Team, a specialty group of the American Red Cross International Disaster Response Team,

I wrote emails back to my family and the Minneapolis Red Cross as debriefing therapy for myself. My family and co-workers forwarded them to friends. Several have said that the emails also helped them better understand the depth of grief and the response in New York as I experienced it.

Family Assistance Center, Pier 94, NYC

I work on Pier 94 which is the building in NYC where all families who have a missing relative need to come to access any and all services. To say that we have been busy since my arrival at the center on Monday AM is an understatement. Currently Red Cross Family Service in this building has a waiting list of 5 hours for families.

We are in a giant pier warehouse building -- set up like a trade show with full carpet, poles with drapes, and some 75 agencies with all their staff and stuff service agencies, government, immigration, FBI, child care, etc. It is a comfortable building in order to be welcoming and calming as can be to the families. The City of New York has done a good job. It is a full city of people in this building -- with free meals for families and separate 3 meals a day for workers. The dining areas are nice (as they can be) -- donated fresh flowers daily, tablecloths, and an ambiance of peace and calm different from the noisy, bustling activity everywhere else. There are clients and workers everywhere. Lots of noise. People come here to access a broad array of services. Security is the tightest I have ever experienced anywhere. You can't get near the place without going through several barricades, body and bag checks -- and once in, all workers need to be separately badged daily even though we have permanent clearance badges. Clients, of course have ID, are escorted, and limited by lots of armed police and military to certain areas. Interestingly, several dogs around with handlers -- not sure if they are rescue dogs off duty or other "sniffers" and working dogs. Outside is where the "wall of photos is that you see on TV -- it is so moving that I avoid spending too much time passing by.

Because of my work, I have access to all areas of the city including Ground Zero -- few people Red Cross have the "green badges" for this purpose -- however we may

have client work in the area. Fortunately I have not yet been to Ground Zero yet -- fortunately because those who have come
back deeply moved. I am not sure I am ready for that yet. Currently, the public cannot get near there. Coming from the airport, we saw other highways closed to the public with the dump trucks in parade taking away debris. They say it will go on for a long time.

We have been very busy in International Services -- yesterday was 16 hours long -- so far we are only 6 people in NYC doing International -- 3 are caseworkers like myself who are dealing most closely with the families. So far I have worked with people from the four corners of the world who have lost family here -- and so far only with people living in USA. I speak a lot of Spanish during the day. A man, 20s, just walked in to talk with my co-worker -- he has a 10x12-color portrait of his brother hanging on his neck -- it is a heartbreaking sight -- we see this all day long. We start soon working with incoming international families. Tomorrow promises to be incredibly busy as they have said that they are going to begin issuing some 4,700 death certificates. That will begin a long process of people being able to access many other services, insurance, etc.

I must go now. Another quick thought -- we have seen many celebrities come through -- all very encouraging to the workers and clients, and they have been very sensitive to the situation.

I'll write when I can. Love, Bob

American Red Cross International Services

It would be nice to let everyone know that hotels and the whole city is going way-out of their way to help the rescuers and the helpers including the American Red Cross. I understand that this hotel is providing lodging to Red Cross personnel at a small fraction of the rate they could normally get from business traffic. Of course, business is down, however this is a major in-kind gift to the Red Cross, and a wonderful emotional boost to us to have a pleasant place to stay after working with the families of NYC. I wrote a note of appreciation to the hotel manager and received back a voice mail of appreciation to me for being here! We have free bus and subway passes, and I hear that many restaurants automatically give big discounts (or in the case of Olive Garden free meals) to Red Cross if you show our official ID. I haven't had time to experience that generosity yet, but two of us did take a free bus back to the hotel after working until 11 p.m. We live only 6 long NYC blocks which is nice to walk in the day -- I did today.

We started shifts today in International Services in that we have more workers (5 plus an evening local volunteer). I am on the 2 p.m. to midnight shift. It was good to sleep this a. m. -- and I did until 10 a.m. when the desk called requesting to move me. They apparently could rent the regular size room I have been in, and moved me to a bigger room for which they had less call. What a benefit for me!

So far the most dramatic cases I have handled involve bringing parents from Ecuador here to be with their only surviving son; a family from Colombia bringing a mother here; a man from Cameroon trying to decide what to do about his parents back home; a new widow and her son who have British passports but whose husband worked in the WTC (World Trade Center), and several others with similar situations. Tomorrow I was to be transferred from this central Family Assistance Center to one of the 3 local Service Centers. However, it was decided that all of us would remain here for a few more days doing our consultation with the caseworkers on the phone -- although "my" service center is only about a 10 minute cab ride so I could go and see a client there also.

The security was tougher today -- the crowds of family quite unbelievable -- every possible ethnic and economic group. The disaster affected a complete cross-section of society.

Today was the beginning of the issuing of death certificates (or the beginning of that process in alphabetical order up through "D" I believe). There was much more open weeping everywhere you went today than before. Im OK working with individual families -- going through the crowds in the "halls" is difficult. I am glad that I am not working mental health -- they have a very difficult job. Several of the MN mental health workers are here.

Duty calls -- need to go. Take care

Love Bob

Of Bears, Dogs, and Flags on Pier 94

BEARS: The most macho of men, the smallest of children, people of all ages are warmly clutching teddy bears of various breeds. None are casually carried. They are everywhere. They are a "badge" designating a family member of a missing person as much as the paper stick-on badge on their clothing that proclaims: "FAMILY" to differentiate from similar badges which read "staff" and/or "volunteer". Each day we have a different color badge -- each day all of us stand in lines to be ID. Nobody nobody --gets beyond the single front entrance guarded by police and military, without proper identification. No cameras are allowed. All carry items are searched.

Another kind of bear sits against the back wall. It is a wall, which, according to my pacing, is 200 feet long. The wall is covered with pictures of missing family members -- all with hand-written notations: "wearing green dress", "tattoo of eagle on shoulder", "last seen on floor 96 Tower One" . . . . (This wall is different than the one you see on TV -- that one is on the street in front of the building where the media gathers. This wall is inside -- protected from all but family members and people involved in the response.) On the floor like guardians of these precious "wanted posters" sit rows and rows of multi-breed teddy bears. All these bears were sent by the children and friends from Oklahoma City to their new brothers and sisters in NYC. I remember that I visited the Oklahoma Memorial only some 16 months ago at the Fifth Anniversary of that bombing, and how moving that was. The still hurting are comforting the newly hurting. Amongst the bears, there are lighted candles in glass holders and fresh flowers. The sight is amazingly peaceful given the bustle around. All is roped off -- family members are allowed to be at touching distance to the photos -- a rope keeps workers who are going about their business separated so the families can weep in peace.

At night, I take a free bus for families and Pier 94 workers back to an area close to my hotel. On the way home we pass by NY Fire Department Station 47 -- it is evident that they lost several of their firefighters. The front is piled with flowers, and candles are everywhere. But the fire trucks are ready and waiting to be called out to the next incident. Many people are standing around quietly amongst the flowers. It is midnight. How can they go home when their dad or brother might be found tonight?

DOGS: When last I wrote, I didn't know why there were so many dogs and handlers around -- I thought they had a protection mission in the building. Noting that many were fluffy and less-than-ferocious, I found out that they are all trained Therapy Dogs -- and their mission is comfort. They fill the mission well. I, too, have been encouraged by a lick on the hand.

FLAGS: This place is huge. Several square blocks. All around the walls at the ceiling hang huge American Flags. In a way, this seems somewhat permanent, in a makeshift way -- in reality we will be people serving families here for a very long time.

It is now 11:30 p.m. -- I just now have been asked to help bring a grandmother here from South America to participate in a funeral for a grandson whose body will undoubtedly never be found. The interview will be in Spanish. I will be here for a while. I am sure the family is more tired than I am.

Love, Bob

Family Assistance Center, Pier 94, NYC

Current operating hours are 8 a.m. to midnight.

We all stand in lines with our own thoughts …waiting to get into the huge building on Pier 94.

To get into the building, one crosses a highway, passes by the media area separated from us by portable iron fencing. We pass by the wall you have seen on TV with all of the photos of missing loved ones. Many such walls are all over NYC. Yellow ribbons are
beginning to fill in all of the fencing.

You wait in line while guards check credentials of workers and ID papers of family members. All bags are searched. Cameras are forbidden. I don't know what else they are looking for. I don't ask. You cross a small parking area which contains the WORLDCOM
semi-trailer housing the banks of telephone from which family members can call world-wide for free. Also in
this area the Salvation Army has a large canteen and snack tent.

One enters the building -- family members in one door, workers through another. Family is greeted by uniformed guards who check papers again and pass them into a line to the Reception Desk at which they learn what services are available and where they are. They
get a dated, colored badge reading "Family". Red Cross has a First Aid station there staffed by both nurses
and physicians. They are stocked like a neighborhood drug store. Families then go to the service they want, and sit in large waiting areas for the next available government or agency worker. Red Cross Mental Health workers, Chaplains and Therapy Dogs wander throughout the building -- are all clearly marked as to who they are; even the dogs have their own picture ID.

Workers enter another door, go to a table where every worker authorized to be in the building each day on a printed list. Those on the list get a different colored dated badge each day indicating what they do. We already also have photo ID indicating the service areas we are allowed to go. We then go to our workspaces. We have what we need even though everything is obviously temporary. I feel my presence here has made a difference to those in grief. I am fortunate to be able to come.

There is a very large staff lunchroom, and a very large family lunchroom. All decorated with tablecloths and fresh flowers. Food is abundant and very good. Red Cross Mass Care workers are numerous and never let a serving plate go empty.

I have heard the words multiple times while in line for security, but I always find joy when I see people hugging and saying "thank God you're alive -- I have
been wondering about you". I am sure that some of the family members who are not as fortunate have other thoughts about those words. -- Bob

Midtown Manhattan, NYC

After work last night, I walked the few blocks down to Times Square. I got off at 11:30 -- no international clients were waiting. The city area was packed with people -- unbelievable.

One of my co-workers went to Phantom of the Opera AND Aida on her day off yesterday. $25 for one, and free for the other with ARC ID. Her Aida ticket was printed at $90. They are trying to keep shows open, of course, as well as keep the tourists coming here. Also, NYC is openly in love with the rescuers and responders. We are not suppose to show ID on the street (reporters and media bait), but we are told of several places that offer discounts. Subways and busses are all still free for Red Cross workers with ID. So far, I have only taken the subway once. I still don't know how they can put another person into Times Square -- I have been there mid-day and mid-night, and you can hardly walk through. My day off is Sunday, so perhaps I can see some Broadway show.

It is 8:20 and I will soon go to dinner. Hagen Daz set up a full "parlor" here today for the workers. I had a waffle cone mid-afternoon. All food, snacks and beverages are free to us in our own huge dining area. The families have a similar area with the same things on the other side of the building. All served by the Red Cross volunteers -- I understand that most of the food is donated by restaurants or at a big discount. They are full meals which have been very, very good. I try to eat at a restaurant or Deli on my walk to work just to be alone and have what I want rather than what is being served at the Center.

There are several others from Minnesota here, but I dont often see any of them because of our work locations and schedules.

Love, Bob

Some of the People Passing Through .. .

A young Mexican woman is here looking for her husband who worked as a waiter on the top floor of the WTC in the famous Windows of the World restaurant. He was the sole support of her, their three children, and an invalid brother in Mexico. I try to help her through the paper of death certificates, return of personal effects, and any other benefits to which she might be entitled. She is not ready. She still completely believes they will find her husband alive. It has now been 20 days.

An older Japanese woman sits in front of me dressed in hat, tailored suit, hands folded on her lap, and eyes continually downcast from mine. She is completely stoical as the translator instantly changes my English into Japanese. Her only son worked for the company that lost some 700 of its employees. Her concern is with having something tangible of his to take back with her for the Buddhist memorial service that is scheduled on her return to Japan. The Red Cross will ship his personal belongings. She is very grateful. She stands and deeply bows to me. I bow respectfully in return.

A man in his thirties and his wife speak to me in a heavy Polish accent. They have with them his father who has come to NYC from Poland yesterday. He will be here for a week to grieve with this couple, and his daughter-in-law the new widow of his only other son who worked at WTC. The woman before me comments that she is trying to help her sister-in-law as best she can. It is difficult in that the widow refuses to be with, or talk to the man sitting before me --her brother-in-law. With tears in his eyes, the man tells me that he and his deceased brother are identical twins. His sister-in-law cannot bear to look into his face or hear his voice at this time. Hopefully time will heal. One also wonders what it must be like for him to look in a mirror. We are requesting that the Polish Red Cross assist in putting the name of the deceased twin on the headstone of their mother who died just a month ago.

My Spanish-speaking client from Ecuador has a running joke. When all this is over, he wants to come to visit me in Minnesota. He is now totally alone in this country perhaps knowing me has been a comfort. When one has family and friends, a familiar country and language, it is hard to image what is it like to have none of those things. Maybe the joke -- the fantasy -- of someday visiting Minnesota can pull him through.

Through all the sadness - clients frequently express hope, faith, and the strength to rise above this pile of rubble, which has fallen on lower Manhattan. I feel honored to be with these people and so very grateful that I have something to offer them through the American Red Cross.

A psychologist from St. Paul working in my area has just given me a laugh with his hand puppet he uses with children. Surprisingly, you hear frequent laughter on Pier 94.

Life does go on. We shall all survive.

-- Bob

Remembering The Fallen

Interestingly, the work is invigorating rather than depressing while I'm here at the Family Assistance Center. I do, however debrief my mind when Im alone in the hotel, and have shed many tears thinking of those who have shared their stories with me during the day.

Language is an interesting thing -- we have translators of nearly every imaginable language here, and all that I have met and used are wonderfully
compassionate people. They often come back asking about clients we have shared -- if I know how they are, etc.

My day off was Monday. I was going to St. Patrick's Cathedral to tour. Getting there, the street was blocked, police everywhere, and a huge fire truck
sitting in front. I stopped to ask the police when I would be able to get inside. He asked if I were going to the memorial. It was evident that this was a service honoring a fireman who died at the WTC, so I said I would like to go in if permitted, and showed him my "get into everywhere" Red Cross ID. I was
taken into the cathedral. Entering the door, I was literally, spiritually transported with the smells of the incense and candles mixed with the World Trade Center debris dust of the firemen around me -- still in their full rescue suits and boots. It was a funeral of one of their comrades. The cathedral could barely have held another ten people -- it was packed. The music and the ritual of the service -- including communion, which I took with the firemen -- was a real healing, experience for me. Afterwards the body was taken to the fire truck for a procession of firemen walking behind down the Avenue of the Americas and some of the best known real estate in the world. It was a memorable experience.

--Love, Bob

Visitors to Pier 94, NYC

The seven (total) of us in International have two small work tables and two
computers in an Admin space, and two counseling tables in the counseling areas which are several large draped
areas with multiple tables in each. Privacy amounts to talking softly. We are quite cozy with each other most of the time.

Perhaps have not mentioned to you that there is quite a parade of notables through here- Madeline Albright
and I chatted, Elton John autographed and kissed the cheeks of my female co-workers, much of US Congress has been here. I hear lots of sports stars and Broadway performers I don't know have also been through. But then this is NYC and mid-town Manhattan. Mostly you know them by the escorts and "visitor" badges verses the "staff" or "volunteer" badges we wear. They come to be helpful and supportive. I guess they are to many people. As you know, however, work goes on no matter who is coming through. We were told, however, that if President Bush came through today (he was in NY) that work would pretty much stop -- he didn't come.

You know the enormous Navy Hospital ship "Comfort"? It was berthed here right at our pier until Sunday when it pulled out. All painted white with big red
crosses on it was very impressive. Most people thought it was our Red Cross organization ship rather than a hospital ship -- I didn't use it as a teachable moment -- I was too proud of seeing such an impressive floating facility with the red crosses so big on it.


Two Weeks on the Job Makes a Difference

I have been here now for two weeks, and I am getting used to many things: the routine of hotel living, lots of walking on the streets of NY, the venders everywhere with multiple types of patriotic goods to sell, the very bright lights of Times Square, the horse & carriage; the mounted patrols, the police and security everywhere, seeing all the theaters, famous concert halls and stores, passing hot-dog and pretzel venders on almost every corner, the noise, the honking, dodging the taxis, the crowds of people. One thing I'll not miss when I return is the noise of the garbage trucks all night long -- even from my 8th floor room they are very loud every night.

I see many Minnesotans and many comment on how well represented our state is. Since Red Cross Disaster Mental Health for the Family Assistance Center is based out of my same office area, I see several Minnesotans working in that function. I hear of many others who are here -- but this is a very, very big Red Cross response in many parts of the city -- so seeing people you know is completely coincidental.

The other side of my two weeks here is seeing the issues of the clients. Recently we have been seeing more repeat clients -- especially those with multiple problems or complicated issues. This is interesting, however it different than the former parade of new people whom I interviewed previously. For example, I have worked now with four clients needing psychiatric evaluations. The psychiatrists have been wonderful, thorough, and impressive with their follow-up with me. The issues have been when "normal" depression crosses the line -- especially regarding sleep and appetite disorders. Grief can be a very debilitating emotion.

Enough for tonight. I am looking forward to my midnight walk to the hotel for some exercise. This has been a day of sitting down -- and the dinner tonight at the ARC dining hall was particularly "comfort food".


On The Sidewalks of New York

Hi -- rainy here this morning -- I didn't use my umbrella because of the wind. Anyway it was still a good walk to the Pier. I am getting lots of exercise walking. Even going at midnight is not so bad -- there usually are several people in each block walking their dogs. The closer you get to Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the more police are on every corner, so they are the ones you have to walk through or around. I am a couple of blocks from Central Park at Columbus Circle, so last night I walked along the Central Park Drive past all the big hotels that face Central Park. Even at 12:30 a.m. it was populated and many of the horse & carriage drivers were taking their fares through the area or waiting to be hired. Monday should be interesting in my hotel area since we are at Columbus Circle -- NYC has a big parade, and I would ASSUME it would at least go by the statues and fountains of Columbus Circle. No matter, I will be working.

I also walked up Fifth Avenue for a few
blocks before turning on 56th to my hotel. Many famous stores -- but I haven't seen Tiffany's yet.

They will be changing the hours of the Center from 8 to 8 starting Sunday. Things are not quite as hectic or crowded, but there are still thousands of
people through here daily. The mayor was here tonight, but I missed him. I usually hear about celebrity visits long after they are gone. Oddly, I have not seen a single therapy dog today -- I miss them. I hear they take them along on the excursion boats that go to the observation platform at Ground Zero reserved for family members. The boats leave from here up to three times per day. I am sure that it is a very sad trip.
I am hoping that the change in hours will allow me to take advantage of the beautiful health club in the hotel. They also have a rooftop swim pool. I
have used neither in that they close at 11:00 p.m. They open 6:00 a.m., however I sleep as late as I can.

I have had lunch twice now at the deli that David Letterman often has on camera during his show -- it is
right next to the Ed Sullivan Theater where Letterman performs -- it is about 3 blocks from my hotel.

Love, Bob

Ground Zero Former Site of the World Trade Center

Yesterday I took the subway down to Ground Zero -- the former World Trade Center. This was the first day that I felt I could do it -- I knew that I wanted to see what this was really all about, yet because of all the families and their stories, I could not buck up emotionally to actually go there. I woke up early yesterday, sat up in bed, and said to myself -- this is the day. I quickly dressed as I knew I only had about four hours before reporting to work with the clients. I took the subway south.

It wasn't what I had expected. We have seen it all on TV so much -- daily, and almost unrelentingly. It was worse. TV does not portray the reality. I arrived at the fence laden with flowers, pictures, gifts, and letters. People were silently looking at it all, taking some pictures, but mostly just quiet. We are many blocks away at this point. I approached the numerous policemen. I inquired how they were doing: "fine". They checked my Red Cross ID with the green band reading "Full Access & Ground Zero", and opened a gate letting me pass. I did, and walked all alone down the middle of what normally would have been a busy NYC
street. Everything was damaged, windows broken; buildings draped in enormous tarps. I could not tell what I was really looking at -- I needed to ask the next policeman exactly where the WTC was -- he pointed ahead several more blocks. The further I went, the worse it got. Finally I saw the smoke, smelled the smells, and walked in the mud. Actually being there was different. I felt sick to my stomach -- tears welled up in my eyes. This is not just a damaged building it is an unconsecrated burial mound. The smoke is still coming out of the hole -- the huge cranes move slowly. The trucks come out laden with debris and need to go through a decontamination spray before getting onto the streets. I could only go within a couple of blocks without obviously getting in the way. It was close enough for me.
I went to the nearby Respite Center where all of the rescuers can go for coffee, to sit down, receive informal counseling, rest, and food. Red Cross volunteers were there managing all the needs of the workers. Salvation Army was across the street also helping countless numbers of people. There were so many trucks -- there were so many men dressed in heavy protective gear. Everyone was working -- few standing around. I spoke to some of the police, with Red Cross volunteers, and stood aside as the workmen headed to the relative comforts of the Respite Center.

I turned and left. Again, my throat closed
and I felt I could hardly breathe, but I kept walking north -- away from that war zone. I took the subway back to my workplace and the families waiting for me.

I have even a deeper appreciation of my clients, their stories, and a strong knowledge, and belief of why I am here.

Soon I will be home. This memory will live on. -- Bob


Suddenly I am faced with the normal mixed feeling -- I will be leaving here. No, I knew this all along -- after all; I have had my return ticket along with my ticket here. Still, one gets caught up in the work to do, the work done, and now during a transition time,
the work still undone. Mostly I want to go home -- get back into the routine of home and work. But another part of me sees the seemly unending line of people coming to the Family Assistance Center with problems that need to be resolved. In these three short weeks, I have learned how to resolve, or alleviate some of their problems. I wish I could help more of them. I am grateful, however, for the talent of the Red Cross people who are coming in to replace us one-by-one. I work at giving them orientation -- but I also know that I can never prepare them for all the things they will see and hear and all the emotions they will feel.

Working for the Red Cross relief effort here has been a wonderful, growing experience for me. It is similar to what I recall I have often said about my Peace Corps work so many years ago -- it was on the list as one of the best things that I ever did, but I dont know if I would be able do it twice in one lifetime.

Today I have helped ship clothing and personal effects of a deceased man in his twenties back to his parents in Peru. He died at WTC on his birthday. You wonder if his co-workers had a card for him on his desk in the morning.

Today I dealt with the psychiatric needs of a woman from the Dominican Republic who is unable to care for her children out of grief at the loss of her spouse. We will be bringing her parents over to care for her and the children; our Integrated Care Team has already assigned a nurse and mental health worker to be with her as necessary in her home.
Today I worked with two young men -- Ecuador and Colombia -- both of whom have multiple problems living in the USA which preceded the violent deaths of their respective only brothers. I work with their individual problems. Both have very limited English both have similar life problems, both have current tragedies with which they can barely cope. By chance I am able to introduce them to each other. They go off to have dinner at the Red Cross family dining center. Maybe the next hour will be more pleasant for them.

The day passes. I hope my replacement, a young woman who has been working in El Salvador for the International Services of the American Red Cross, will have as rich and rewarding experience as I have had.

On the next day, I am in the process of turning over my work for the past 3 weeks to my replacement. As the day progresses, I am surprised three times. My young clients from Ecuador and Colombia come separately to see me, and tell me that their short-term plans have been confirmed and to thank me for sticking with each of them during their worst times. Additionally, my older client from Argentina comes to tell me that his ticket home has been confirmed and he leaves the next day and he thanks me for helping make this possible. As two of these men needed psychiatric interventions for depression during the time I knew them, I was particularly pleased that their lives seemed to be better.

It was evident to me on this day with these three men that although there was much work to be done here, some of my work had been accomplished I can now transition back home for a while. My vivid memories of this experience with the World Trade Center international families will be with me for a very long time.

See you in Minneapolis soon. -Bob


RC Story: RC Volunteer


RC Story: RC Employee



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