NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

Remembering and Responding to September 11

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This is a post by Ed Levine, NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinator based in New York.

As the stars begin to align on the upcoming 10-year commemoration of the 9/11 attacks, I find myself mentally and physically revisiting the event. By coincidence, this week I’ll be at Ohmsett (an oil spill response research facility near Sandy Hook, N.J.). That was where I was when the planes hit the Twin Towers. Although it is located 19 miles from “Ground Zero,” due to the beautifully clear, blue skies that day, my colleagues and I were able to see the smoke from the burning towers and actually hear the collapse, a sound like rolling thunder.

The drive home that day was one I never will forget. From the highway you could see lower Manhattan being enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Roadways were being closed, traffic diverted, people pulling over to gawk, and the car radio was full of reports rolling in with bits and pieces of news. It took me three times the normal travel time to get home to Teaneck, N.J.

Once home, we had no television reception—every channel showed nothing but snow—because the broadcast channel transmission antennae were on (used to be on) top of the World Trade Center. We were able to receive radio transmissions though.


Harbor cruise on a U.S. Coast Guard vessel in New York shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Ed Levine, NOAA.

Due to the strain on cell tower capacity and the loss of Verizon’s major switching center at the World Trade Center, communications with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) were curtailed. On September 13, I reported to the USCG base on Staten Island and was immediately put to work, taking a cruise of New York Harbor to identify pollution run-off and other potential water-borne hazards. We witnessed up-close the still-smoldering site.

For several weeks, I worked at the Staten Island base, as my office in lower Manhattan was still in the restricted zone. NOAA provided information management for the Coast Guard, as well as other technical advisory roles. For example, I helped pull together a website for the World Trade Center area, which provided critical information to the general public, the Coast Guard, and other government agencies on waterway closures, security zones, maps, photographs, weather, and tides.

Over the last decade, aside from the obvious, major changes since then, there are numerous little things that pop up as reminders that the Towers are gone and the world is a slightly different place. There are both positive and not-so-positive reminders: the kinder, gentler New Yorkers; the increased use of water taxis and ferries; the new construction at the site of Ground Zero; the heightened security in the subways and office buildings; the large teams of SWAT officers that patrol the Wall Street area; the closing and subsequent re-opening of the Statue of Liberty; and armed Coast Guard and New York Police Department vessels in the harbor.

For me, each year at this time I do remember what it was like and how I felt back then. It was a truly emotional event. With my office less than one-half mile from the site and the World Trade Center Memorial Flame a block away, I often have reminders of that day’s events. This year on September 11, I plan to attend a memorial service in my town where four members of our community perished (one of them my younger son’s Little League baseball coach who worked for World Trade Center-based firm Cantor Fitzgerald). This has been an annual event for the town and for me as well. After that, life will continue as usual, but a little piece of me will “Always Remember.”

Ed Levine.

Ed Levine works as Scientific Support Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Response and Restoration, where he provides scientific and technical support in the New York area. 

Author: Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific solutions for marine pollution. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), OR&R is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments. These threats could be oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, or marine debris.

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