Reflecting on the 20-Year Anniversary of 9/11
By Shannon Cieciuch, Account Supervisor
Public relations professionals are trained to handle our clients’ crises as they arise. These incidents may occur at a moment’s notice, and require coordination between internal teams, the client spokespeople, and the media. Statements are prepared, relevant stakeholders are briefed, and the client and PR team work together as a unit to communicate a cohesive message to journalists as appropriate.
Throughout my career, I have learned to roll with the punches and adjust to curveballs as necessary. In the crisis situations that I have experienced with clients, I have leaned on my team and pulled through to make sure that we send the right message, to the right people, at the right time.
Whether a security breach, data center outage, or another unplanned event, no one can predict when one of these crisis incidents might occur — just as no one could have imagined that on September 11, 2001 the United States would experience one of the worst terrorist attacks to occur on our home soil.
Twenty years ago today
As I reflect on the 20-Year Anniversary of 9/11, I remember I was only six years old at the time and living about 45 minutes northwest of New York City. The day started like any other would. My dad went to work, my mom dropped me off at school and I was excited to see my friends and continue to learn how to read. We had the morning announcements as usual, and then sat back down to begin our lessons for the day.
Shortly after the morning announcements, our principal came onto the loudspeaker to let us know that the teachers should prepare for potential early dismissal for students, as the World Trade Center was targeted in what appeared to be a terrorist attack. Parents had been notified and could pick up their children.
As a first grader, the gravity of what my principal told me did not hit me. While the school staff looked visibly upset, I didn’t really comprehend why. After all, in elementary school, the greatest emergency you think you’re going to face is being called up to the board to solve a math problem. You never imagine the entire world could turn upside down at the blink of an eye.
The remainder of the details from that day have faded slightly over the years, but I remember when my parents did pick me up that day that they looked terrified. What I didn’t know at the time was that my uncle was currently one of the firefighters that was over in the city, my grandpa was supposed to be there that day and countless friends and family members were anxiously waiting for word on their loved ones.
Thankfully, my grandpa decided to postpone his city trip that morning and my uncle made it home safe and sound. Over the next few days though many neighbors and friends did not experience the same fate. Grief filled the streets in the hours following as we all wondered how to move forward.
Importance of unity in crisis
Through the heartbreak, devastation and fear during those days, weeks and even months following 9/11, there was one silver lining. I’ve never seen so many different communities and groups come together as they did during the time following the attack. Neighbors banded together to care for the grieving, honor those we lost and pick up the pieces to heal.
It was inspiring and moving to watch people work together to fix pain and bring recovery in their path — similar to how the world has shifted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The upside to devastation is the realization that our differences aren’t as big as they might initially seem.
When individuals say, “Never forget,” in reference to the events of 9/11, they typically aim to speak on the souls that have passed due to the events of the day. This is extremely important, but not the only lesson I hope you take away from that day.
On the 20-Year Anniversary of 9/11, I would like to challenge everyone to remember the importance of unity — especially in the times of crisis. The key to moving forward is being cohesive and aligned on a path forward.
No one can predict when a crisis might occur, but we do control what occurs after. So whether dealing with a bad situation, remember to look at those around you and lean on them to move forward.