9/11 a decade later – a personal reminiscence

by | Sep 11, 2011 | Intranets

It has been difficult to concentrate on anything this weekend as the events of 9/11 are commemorated.  I certainly remember the beautiful weather that morning in Washington DC.  Together with colleagues Howard McQueen and Kiki Ross I was working at the IMF on my first major intranet project, and we were rather overwhelmed by the scale of the project, the warmth of the welcome from the IMF staff and the size of our very own project office. Quite how we came to win the project was a mystery, but the meetings on Monday had gone well and we walked down 21st NW in the morning sunshine ready to start our first round of interviews. We were very fortunate to have Vicente Galbis on the team as well. Vicente was a retired Senior Economist at the IMF and knew every one and every IMF process.

At just after 9am the phone in the project office rang. Kiki answered it to find it was her partner in London. He was in the brokerage business and news of the first plane flying in to the WTC had just been flashed across the world and into an incredulous City of London.  We thought it was a private plane and that it was just a tragic accident. Shortly afterwards news of the second plane was phoned through. This was no accident, and we asked our project manager Elaine Khan if we should cancel the meetings for the morning. Elaine had no idea what we were talking about, and that’s when we realised we were amongst the first people in the IMF to know the terrible news.

We left the office around mid-morning as the news of the Pentagon disaster filtered through along with the heroism of UA93 and spend the rest of the day glued to the television set in the hotel trying, and of course failing, to make sense of it.

When we returned to the IMF the next day the mood was remarkably ‘business as usual’. Not because they did not care but because the IMF had a crucial role to play in making sure that the global economic situation was monitored and managed.  We left Washington just a day late at the end of the week with the reassurance from the IMF that the project would proceed to schedule. Indeed it did just that, though being one of just 32 passengers on a 777 across the Atlantic a few weeks later was very unsettling.

The project was successful as we just buried ourselves in the work as a way of shutting out the situation in New York and Washington, but much of the success was also due to the guidance of Elaine Khan and Vicente Galbis,  and to the Project Director Dr Choi Soon-Hong, who is now CIO at the United Nations.  It was the project that really marked the start of Intranet Focus Ltd. Although I had carried out a number of projects up to that time none were as complex and business critical as the IMF project, and we all learned a great deal from the experience.  When prospective customers asked me for a reference site I could just say “The IMF” and that worked like a charm!

So ten years I have very mixed memories of 9/11.  I suspect I will carry them with me for ever.  Even now I can remember virtually every detail of that week in Washington.  Given the difficulties we ran into, especially with travel and the scale of the project as it developed (a feature of intranet projects!) I surprised myself by the determination I had to make it all work despite the terrorist’s actions.  I learned a lot about myself in the weeks following 9/11 which have helped me a lot ever since that terrible day in world history.

Martin White