September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:I have submitted information about my 9/11/01 work with interntional victim families of the World Trade Center. It may be of additional interest to know of the work done for the first anniversary commemoration services. That report is attached.

August 18 September 13, 2002

Robert N. Munson
Emergency Service Director
Minneapolis Area Chapter American Red Cross

International Family Assistance Program 9-11 Memorial Events
ARC International Disaster Response Unit

August 19 to September 8: Washington DC National Headquarters, American Red Cross
September 8 to 13: New York City

I was called to this assignment because I am a member of the American Red Cross International Response Team (IRT), a small group of people trained to deal with policies and activities of the ARC during catastrophic international disasters. Additionally I was called because I was one of the IRT team members setting up the original response to bereaved foreign nationals who lost family members on 9-11-01 in the World Trade Center, New York, and also because I am English/Spanish bi-lingual.

This year, family members from around the world have been invited by the American Red Cross to come to the United States for condolence visits or memorial services with relatives living in New York. They came last September, and later in October when the city held the first Memorial Service. The travel was separate from the financial support given to each domestic and international family affected by the WTC attack.

Families again were invited to New York for the 9-11-02 Memorial Services. Several hundred came, and my primary work group of three people was responsible for some two hundred who were in need of supportive local arrangements including participation in memorial events. Other visitors were part of larger national groups (Japanese, British, Australians, Canadians) whose consulate representatives made many of the local arrangements to supplement the American Red Cross travel arrangements.

My specific assignment was to make arrangements for, and work with, the international Red Cross, Red Crescent, and Magan David Adom National Society social workers who had been working locally in their own countries with the issues surrounding the WTC deaths of family members. Workers from the 65 nationalities represented in the WTC deaths were invited, and 32 came to New York on September 9th from 30 countries. Peru had more than one representative. Only the principle direct service worker from each country was invited. It was intended that coming to New York was a working trip for those involved this last year. Much of my three weeks at Red Cross NHQ in Washington was consumed with the program planning for the visit, and international travel and document logistics for each individual traveler.

The reason for these National Society workers to come was (1) to be a continuing support to the families who were traveling to New York from their countries, and (2) to assist the American Red Cross in evaluating our international communications and relationships during times of catastrophic disaster response.

Our National Society visitors were from: Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, The Gambia, Germany, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Israel, Jamaica, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Thailand, and Venezuela.

Everyone was scheduled for a Monday, 9/9/02 arrival in New York, and a Friday, 9/13/02 departure. All were booked into the same hotel. Several of the international staff from NHQ in Washington also attended as these are the staff persons working electronically with the National Society visitors on a regular basis.

On Tuesday, 9/10, a five-hour session was held in our hotel which included a lessons learned evaluation session, an American Red Cross recognition of the work done internationally, and an informal reception for networking. The lessons learned was modeled after our usual disaster critique of (1) what did we do, (2) what went well, and (3) what would we do differently next time. I led much of this session bi-lingually. A few of the lessons learned included: (1) systems were set up in the manner of other international disasters which worked, although nothing this expansive had been done before, (2) ARC was efficient enough that it appeared overseas that the American staff was much larger than it was; (3) communication via electronics was rapid, but more could be done 24/7 because of the time-zones, and the international hunger for information, (3) rosters of international responders would be helpful so all participants would know who is working at the time. Many other ideas were generated and noted by the Americans for fine-tuning future responses (all responses were noted by NHQ staff).

Wednesday, 9-11, was reserved for families at Ground Zero. Our National Society visitors accompanied families there, or attended memorial services throughout New York. I was designated by the team to be one of the ARC to get Red Cross and government clearance to Ground Zero. This needed to be done at 4:45 am to avoid unauthorized credentialing. With the background of the bag-pipers marching from all boroughs to the WTC site, we returned to hotels where families were staying to help facilitate their transportation and entrance to Ground Zero. I accompanied a Peruvian family and we were invited to be transported on a bus with Australian families. The atmosphere was laden with drama and the eerie hush of thousands of people introverting into their own thoughts. The reading of the names began, and one family at a time left the general area to walk down the ramp into the pit and place flowers in the circle. Bright sunshine spotlighted the swirling dust created by the high winds of the day. Some saw the dust in allegory of heavenly support I recalled the last time I was at this site, and the smoke of destruction was still coming from the pit. Later, much of New York paused for candle vigils in all boroughs, fire stations, remembrance-decorated fences, and at concerts.

Thursday, 9-12, I had arranged that our National Society visitors would have a guided harbor tour of New York with six-language headsets. After the heaviness of the last two days, this was a respite and a time for international bonding which was wonderful to see. Many photos were taken of the sites, each other, of the Americans, and of every possible combination of nationalities.

The last event of the National Society visit was a private Port Authority tour of the WTC site from the high-security family viewing area. At the end, I was asked by the guide to announce the nationalities of the group. I read each country from my list so that the representative could individually acknowledge their presence at Ground Zero. This was unplanned, but appeared to be a significant highlight of their trip, and one that undoubtedly will be retold to their co-workers around the world.

Personal evaluation: although the four weeks was a long and sometimes draining assignment, I felt that I was of direct and positive assistance to the NHQ staff. This was confirmed by the very generous words of gratitude given to me by our National Society visitors, and most importantly by my NHQ co-workers. I routinely told people that I was on loan from Minneapolis, and that it was because of the generosity of our administration, and the talent of my staff that I was able to be gone so long, and assist in this important international work. I now have devoted 7 weeks of this last year away from the chapter for this significant disaster. Additionally at this time I have given over 30 presentations to nearly 2,000 people about the work of the American Red Cross following 9-11. This has all been a period of deep personal satisfaction because of the work accomplished, and additionally has had an undeniable personal affect to my life.



Red Cross Volunteer:yes

Red Cross Employee:yes

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