Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

The Foreshadowing of 9/11

Feb. 26, 1993

The bomb went off shortly after noon and shook the building like an earthquake. Our offices on the top floors of 1 World Trade Center (the north tower) went dark. No one knew what had happened, but within minutes the emergency lights kicked on and our 700 employees at Cantor Fitzgerald calmly headed for the stairs. The stairway quickly became a traffic jam as 20,000 workers on lower floors were also evacuating that cold February day, but the Cantor folks didn't panic. Some of them lashed their ties and belts to the wheelchairs of handicapped people and carried them down the 105 flights of stairs. Others helped those who were unable to walk unaided down to the 25th floor where fire fighters, who were on their way up to help, took over. We all made it out.

As we look back now on the 1993 attack, in which six people were killed and more than a thousand were injured when a terrorist bomb exploded in an unoccupied van in the Trade Center's underground garage, it's clear that for many of us the event was a false ceiling on the limits of terror. We thought at the time the attack was a warning to be prepared. And so, Cantor Fitzgerald and the other tenants and building managers of the World Trade Center tried to prepare. We took what we thought were exhaustive efforts to safeguard ourselves from any future incidents. Security at ground level and below was tightened. Stairways were rebuilt to make it easier for police and fire fighters to enter. Many businesses, including ours, worked on detailed disaster-recovery plans in the event we lost our buildings. And then life went on. Somewhere in the consciousness of those of us who worked in the Trade Center was the belief that terrorists, like lightning, would not strike the same place twice.

When it did, on Sept. 11, our preparations were not in vain. The added measures no doubt saved the lives of thousands of people who evacuated safely. Yet to a tragic extent, we had erected defenses against the past. We could not have foreseen the horror and destruction that Cantor Fitzgerald, New York City and our nation would experience. We lost more than anyone could have imagined. In the months following Sept. 11, our employees committed to rebuilding with a new purpose: to care for the families of the 658 victims we lost. We announced on Sept. 19, 2001, that we would distribute a quarter of our company's profits to these families for a period of five years, and cover 10 years of health care. We can never regain what was taken from us that day, but we keep the memory of our friends in our hearts and their families by our side.

Lutnick is chairman and CEO of investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald