I lived in Jacksonville, Florida in September 2001. I worked for America Online as the internal Communications Manager for a 700+ employee call center. On the drive in that morning, a popular radio host began laughing and said, "I'm reading a report now that a plane has crashed into the side of one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York." As he laughed he added a comment about how pilots shouldn't drink before getting behind the stick.
Within about 10 minutes, I walked through the front doors to see every television in the center showing those images which most of us will never forget: smoke rolling out of one of the towers, and then the second plane impacting the other tower.
In those days we had the AOL Communicator - a neat mobile device that allowed you to use AIM and read your AOL mail on a handheld nicknamed the "blueberry" for being a smaller, blue version of the blackberry device. Mine was in a constant state of buzz as emails and IMs flooded the airwaves.
It was a moment in time, which in hindsight, cemented the role of wireless/internet connectivity. The internet and wireless communication was THE way friends and family stayed abreast of each others' safety, whereabouts and emotional state. For me, it was the only link I had to our General Managers who were all in Dulles, Virginia at a headquarters meeting. I was barely one year out of the Army where training dictated a leader stay calm, make decisions, and well, lead. I was thankful for my training that day as the center nearly devolved into panic mode as employees began walking away from their desks to go home and check on their loved ones. Within the hour, we were given the word from headquarters to allow employees to leave, but encourage those who would to stay.
Wow, did we regret that move.
Within another hour, what we should have known all along became painfully clear: people wanted their AOL to work so they could get news, communicate with friends and family and go into their online communities for support, comfort, and yes, even to express anger and outrage. Our employees fielded call after call after call from AOL members desperate for their link to the world to work. Many others fielded calls from people who just wanted to hear the sound of another human voice and they knew AOL phones would be staffed. I believe that day I spent a tad over 16 hours in the center. Likewise the day after. Our General Managers rented cars and drove through the night to get to the center. Employees came to us and said they were quitting to go join the military.
It was a series of days and nights I don't know that I will ever forget.
How clear it is now, in times of crisis, turmoil or better yet, celebration that so many of us turn to our online communities for support. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, messaging services, you name it - by now nearly every major global event of the past decade has its own social media + mobile tone.
Don't let your Sept. 11, story go untold. Take advantage of the online freedoms you possess and blog, tweet or share on facebook - you aren't alone. Then, or now.