9-1-1: American Emergency

When hijackers coordinated the take-over of four passenger planes on September 11, they sent out a 9-1-1. It was truly an emergency call.

Emergency comes from emerge and emergence, from the Latin word for to plunge out--it means to rise from, to come out into view.

We have listened to stories of rescue and sacrifice. We have watched First Responders, the Fire and Emergency Medical teams that are first on the scene of a disaster. We have recognized so many people as the heroes they are. But itís not over. There is plenty of emergency response work still to be done, over a long period of time, and this gives us all a chance to be heroes in our own way.

It was an airport security emergency and an air traffic control emergency. It was a national security emergency. It was a crisis management emergency. It was a belief and reality emergency--days later, I heard people repeating "Itís not real, itís not real" and "I canít believe it."

It was a shock and grief emergency, and experts say the trauma will go on for months and years. Some people are already discussing rebuilding on the site in lower Manhattan, but who will want to have an office to do business on a mass grave?

It was a political emergency, and the government mobilized. It was an intelligence emergency--why didnít we know enough to prevent it?

It was a religious and spiritual emergency--how can we understand the purpose of death and destruction on this scale?

It was a patriotic emergency-- how do we respond to an "Attack on America?" It was a peace and justice emergency--do we have a repertoire of response that does not take the form of violent retaliation and retribution?

It was a democracy emergency--how do we preserve our principles in adversity? It was a tolerance and understanding emergency--how do we keep from turning against people from other religious and cultural groups, ethnic groups and nationalities that we identify with the criminals, the enemy?

It was an educational emergency--how much do we know about the perspectives and mentality of people who would do this? How much do we know about world geography and geopolitics, about religious passions that we donít share?

Responding to these emergencies will take good ideas and imagination, coordination, and the ability to turn them into ongoing tasks. That 9-1-1 call was made to all of us. The phone is still ringing. We need to decide how we will answer it.

September 30, 2001

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