Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, and we continue to remember and honor the lives lost, the brave responders who fought to save them, and those who helped rebuild at the World Trade Center site.
From the former Gilsanz Murray Steficek (GMS) offices at 95 University Place in New York City, we had a direct view of downtown. Like everyone else, we watched on a hastily set-up TV as the day’s events unfolded on that beautiful Tuesday in early September. A horrific event in United States history, the September 11 attacks created hundreds of thousands of tons of debris; the rubble of destroyed buildings covered over 14 acres. Beyond causing senseless deaths and injuries, the attacks displaced thousands of people, blocked off roads, and hindered access to offices and homes. Authorities kept citizens out of harm’s way for over a month while first responders, engineers, and clean-up workers cleared and assessed the area. New York City was in a state no one could have ever imagined. Yet, in the face of this hardship, people from around the country joined together to help their neighbors.
By that afternoon, GMS was working with clients to assess their buildings in the area and reaching out to NYC officials. At the time, GMS founding partner, Ramon Gilsanz, was the immediate past-President of the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY) and served as a key leader in the SEAoNY September 11 response efforts. Ramon and then-President and Vice President of SEAoNY, Rick Mahoney of McLaren Engineering Group and Edward DePaola of Severud Associates, volunteered the services of New York structural engineers to the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and offered their response management to NYC Department of Design and Construction (NYCDDC). Michael Burton and Dan Eschenasy of the NYCDDC contracted four construction companies and Thornton Tomasetti – including Richard Tomasetti and Dan Cuoco – to begin coordinating engineering and construction work in support of the search and rescue and recovery operations at the site that very afternoon.
By September 13, just two days after the attacks, the SEAoNY response organization was staffed and running from GMS offices 24/7.
Structural engineers from across the country came together to work on the emergency damage assessment of buildings in the immediate collapse area, assist the contractors in developing temporary stabilization procedures, identify unstable regions of debris, and safely disassemble the collapse across the World Trade Center site. Among the 20+ firms on-site were Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; Robert Silman Associates; Guy Nordenson and Associates; Buro Happold; and so many others who drove from as far as Chicago to help. Additionally, GMS hosted workers from other structural engineering firms whose employees were displaced, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff assigned to objectively assess the successes and failures of the construction and response, and learn from the tragedy. GMS and SEAoNY members also staffed the search of the scrapyards to salvage critical evidence for the subsequent investigations.
Even after administrative duties were transferred to Thornton Tomasetti on September 27, GMS continued to work on-site and support the response efforts of multiple groups. Since it all began, our teams have conducted intensive research on the structural engineering of the WTC 1, WTC 2, and WTC7 buildings; uncovered opportunities to improve engineering services for the future; updated the NYC Building Codes and presented findings to engineering organizations across the country. The scale of the SEAoNY effort revealed the need for a national Structural Engineers Emergency Response (SEER) plan to streamline protocols and make qualifications standard and reciprocal across states.
Overall, the collective effort was a pure demonstration of teamwork that, to this day, echoes the GMS philosophy – all for one and one for all. Even now, we remain united, inspired, and ready to work for the greater good.
Further reading about SEAoNY efforts can be found in the following publications: