It is human nature to forget and move on from tragedy. Most of us do … eventually. But those of you new to Work Comp Roundup may not know our ties to Sept 11, 10 years ago today. We will never move on, only adapt.
Nestled in the World Trade Center Towers were two of the largest insurance brokers in the world, Marsh and AON – giants in workers compensation. As Roundup’s founder, I had been an employee of both companies and had recently retired when the towers fell. Nearly 600 people, so many friends and colleagues, were lost that day between those two companies. Some of these people were key to the field of workers' compensation cost containment, working beside us and supporting our efforts to build cost containment into formalized practices. They helped bring cost reduction to many companies.
A horrible day, with information coming in slowly and unsurely about survivors. On TV, they told us how exit procedures “should” be working. Many tried to evacuate but were told everything was under control, so they went back into the building. Some, who were leaving despite the "all clear" messages, found people crammed so tightly in the stairwells from the 35th floor down that it was difficult to get out. Firefighters were trying to get up the stairs; building occupants were trying to get down.
Myself and everyone who had worked for Marsh and AON, or was still working there, were calling around, trying to find out who was missing, who had checked in, and who were known to be safe. Several senior company employees were doing their best to keep as many people as possible informed, while also making plans to get to New York to help. AON is based in Chicago, so some there were trying to decide if they should go to New York or wait to be given direction. At AON, Pamela Newman told us who had been located as news slowly trickled in; news was slow because there were no longer office phones. At Marsh, Jim Connolly was letting me know who was found while trying to organize a remote response. One supervisor, Phil Petronis, was found. Another, Harry Taback, was not. As the first broker to institutionalize workers compensation cost containment, Harry and Phil were at the helm.
Since many were still turning up at local hospitals, there was a lot of people-matching going on. The list of victims was not firmed up. Who was traveling? Who was in the building at that time? Who got out?
Harry, my former boss at M&M PC, a unit of Marsh, was on the impact floors at 1 World Trade Center. We saw the son of a colleague from AON, Bob Ferris, on TV holding a photo of his dad – looking, looking. We learned days later Bob did not make it. In many cases, we didn't actually hear that someone didn't make it, but rather we just never heard that they did, or we saw that a memorial service was scheduled. Even the safety experts on the news were people from the company — experts in building safety. While we waited for information, professionals talked about what fire can do to a building – or a person.
Many of us did not like working in such huge, tall buildings, and had been disappointed to have our offices moved to that location. Some of us were safety professionals who knew the dangers of being in such a large building. They imagined the impossibility of getting out of such a building if it were to burn, and we talked about it once when we saw the buildings looming ahead of us as we drove down the Henry Hudson Parkway on the west side of Manhattan enroute to the World Trade Center. No one ever imagined this, however.
Sept. 11 was a day of meetings at the Trade Center. The man who replaced me when I left Marsh, Richard Keane, sat at my old desk in Hartford, CT. That day he made a rare trip to Marsh’s New York office. It was a meeting I would have attended. He was killed that day, and left five sons and his wife.
The only blessing is that Marsh, on floors 93 through 100 in the North Tower, 1 World Trade Center, was smack-dab at the point of the AA Flight 11 impact, 8:46 a.m. I’d like to think they neither saw what was coming, nor suffered. We will never know. Apparently, almost no one above floor 92 survived.
AON was on floors 98 through 105 in 2 World Trade Center, the South Tower. It was struck on floors 77 through 85 by United Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m. and was the first to collapse at 9:59 a.m. Some people above the point of impact in this tower were able to escape but it is from this tower where the horrible images of employees jumping comes from. It is something I cannot get out of my head. It’s hard thinking that your colleagues may have had to make that kind of choice.
The events were so tragic that some of us will no longer work in high buildings. When we have to stay in hotels, we request “low floors,” accessible by fire equipment. We make sure we know where the fire escapes are and how the windows open. We pay attention to evacuation drills. It will be like this for the rest of our lives.
One friend I know still works for a broker in NY and was in the Trade Center Sept. 11. She had to crawl out over some of her dead colleagues to get to the stairwell. She made it out, but is a very quiet person now. A regular day at the office turned into a war-like memory. No one expects that. She and I simply never talk about it.
Life marches on. There was a need. Insurance may not be the most glamorous business – but it is a necessary business, and all of the Marsh and AON employees were dedicated to the business and to each other. Injured workers deserve compensation and companies must budget appropriately to stay in business. There will always be a need for insurance.
My focus changed. Those of us who had been retired from Marsh and AON, quickly accepted assignments to do whatever was needed to help. I had been retired, but went back to work to help complete several projects for AON that employees who died in the Trade Center would not be able to finish. I finished Lisa’s project as an outsourced risk manager for a Stamford-based company. She worked off-site several days each week at this position, but on Sept. 11, 2001, she was in her office at AON in lower Manhattan, in the South Tower.
It is human nature to forget. To heal and move on. But, for those of us touched by this horrible event and lucky enough to survive – we know – if we forget, there is no one left to tell the story.
Marsh and AON have done a remarkable job with their memorial websites. If you care to share the memories of those who have made an imprint on this industry in the past, their websites are below.
Marsh Memorial: http://memorial.mmc.com/