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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

September 11: Evacuating the World Trade Center, Twice

The firsthand accounts of those who survived the terrorist attacks on America are being lost each year, and we as nation should pause, reflect, honor, and learn from that day. 

This is a personal story of a survivor of the September 11 attacks, and it is one of many as there were an estimated 14,000 people below the impact zones of both towers of the World Trade Center who successfully evacuated that morning in 2001.[i] However, 22 years have passed and many of those survivors, especially survivors aged 50 or older in 2001, are now well into their 70s or have passed away. The documented firsthand accounts of those who survived September 11 are being lost each year, and we as nation should pause, reflect, honor, and learn from that day. This personal story has never been officially documented to this extent and accuracy before. On the 21st anniversary, Homeland Security Today also published a personal survivor story to commemorate that tragic day.

The following is the survivor’s experience, overlaid with a modified eight-step framework called the “survival bridge” developed by the author. Those in disasters must step across this survival bridge to get from the side of danger and death to the side of safety and life. The eight steps include Detect, Deduce, Debate, Decide, Do, Drive, Deliver, and Divulge, but each step on the survival bridge includes challenges trying to stop or delay someone from crossing the survival bridge. Challenges include fear, panic, denial, freezing, confusion, self-doubt, anger, emotional distress, miscalculation/disassociation of danger, inadequate training, inadequate life experience, inaccurate or lack of communicated information/guidance, herding behavior, group think, crowding, bad timing, self-sacrifice, building damage/blockages, physical limitations, and injury, just to name a few. Often these challenges will conspire together and make survival unlikely.


Adam Staples was a recent 22-year-old graduate of Arkansas State with a degree in finance and had been hired to be a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (MSDW) in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Early in his life he was impressed by those in high finance as they handled large sums of money while dressed in sharp business attire. But Adam knew he had to overcome a lot, as he was from a small town, a small high school, and a state college, so to get his foot into the financial sector he offered himself as an unpaid intern in college at the MSDW office in Jonesboro, which turned into a paid part-time job, and eventually into a job offer upon graduation.

Becoming a new MSDW employee in the summer of 2001, he was scheduled to attend three weeks of training in New York City in the early fall. The summer passed quickly, and he flew to New York City on an early flight on Sunday morning, September 9. He spent most of the day with his cousin Mary who was living in the city and happened to be a MSDW employee in their Broadway office in Manhattan. Being in New York City for the first time was incredible, especially embarking on his career in the financial district of the world. Adam’s dream was coming true, and he was excited about getting started. He checked into the hotel and met the roommate paired with him for their three-week stay. The hotel was filled with a lot of new employees from MSDW, and a dedicated charter bus was provided for shuttling them.

The next morning, September 10, Adam and others took the charter bus from the hotel to the World Trade Center Complex. Adam received a MSDW badge, and he spent his first day of training on the 61st floor of the World Trade Center 2 tower, known as the South Tower. The enormity of the towers and the views from the MSDW spaces were amazing despite the ominous weather on that Monday. Parts of that Monday were dark and foreboding across Lower Manhattan following a cold front that brought rain and thunderstorms. That Monday evening, Adam went jogging from his hotel and ran in the rain in Central Park, which was something Adam enjoyed. Adams felt the training and exploring the city over the coming weeks would be exciting.

South Tower World Trade Center, 61st Floor, 7:50 a.m., September 11, 2001

MSDW was the largest tenant of the World Trade Center complex and occupied the 59th through 74th floors of the South Tower. Adam recalls Tuesday morning, September 11, as being in stark contrast to the previous evening. That Tuesday morning broke cool and clear with deep-blue cloudless skies across Manhattan, and across most of the entire nation. Adam and his colleagues passed on the charter buses and instead walked to the subway that took them to the World Trade Center complex. Adam had his backpack with him, and he had grabbed a disposable Kodak camera he had bought that he slipped into his front pocket of his dress pants. MSDW had warned trainees that they were not to be late to class, late from break, or late from lunch, for any reason. As such, Adam and his five colleagues in the training from Arkansas left early and prepared for day two of training in a large conference room that accommodated more than 250 students on the 61st floor of the South Tower. Affectionally called “Baby Brokers” by the MSDW training staff, the three weeks of training was going to get them started on their financial careers in the company.

South Tower World Trade Center, 61st Floor, 8:46 a.m., September 11, 2001

During a lull in the morning Adam decided he was going to dash down a local elevator to get some breakfast at a cafeteria on the 43rd floor. He likely descended local elevator #66, 67, or 68 to the 44th floor, which was one of the two Sky Lobbies for the tower. To optimize leasable space and make the towers financially viable, the two towers were designed with local elevators that served three zones: between the main lobby to the 43rd floor, between the 44th floor to the 77th floor, and between the 78th floor to the 110th floor. Express elevators would take people to Sky Lobbies on the 44th and 78th floors where tower occupants had to transfer from express elevators to local elevators to access the different upper zones. Adam descended in a local elevator to the Sky Lobby on the 44th floor, then took an escalator down to the 43rd floor and quickly purchased some breakfast in a large cafeteria. Adam left the cafeteria and took the escalator back up one floor to the 44th floor Sky Lobby. Although he doesn’t recall exactly what he grabbed to eat, he admits that knowing himself it was likely a coffee and a sweet roll.

While coming out of the cafeteria, going up the escalator, and waiting for the elevator on the 44th floor Sky Lobby, Adam had noticed about 20 people who looked distressed and shocked. Finding this odd, he waited for the elevator. Unbeknownst to him, he was inside the South Tower elevator as he descended to get breakfast when the World Trade Center 1 tower, known as the North Tower, had been hit between the 93rd and 99th floors. He learned later that American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 from Logan Airport, had been flown into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. traveling north-to-south. Being in the central core of the South Tower inside a descending elevator had effectively sheltered Adam from the visual scene, the noise, and the vibration felt in the South Tower when the North Tower was impacted.

Heading up on the elevator alone, on either elevator #66, 67 or 68, he quickly got to the 61st floor without stopping. After the elevator doors opened on the 61st floor at approximately 8:51 a.m., he stepped onto the floor and into a full-blown evacuation with people heading to the stairwells. Interestingly, there was little evacuation using the elevators. Not knowing the reason for the evacuation, Adam quickly followed and walked with others to the stairwell without even going to the conference room to grab his backpack, which was a special college memento. Adam’s circumstances thrust him past all the initial steps on the survival bridge of Detect, Deduce, Debate, and Decide. He was thrust immediately into the Do step and was evacuating with no context other than something had occurred to prompt evacuation.

During the descent down the stairwell, he learned something had happened in the North Tower but exactly what was not clear to him. Looking back, he had no idea what he did with the coffee or sweet roll in the chaos of what was occurring but likely set them down or threw them away. He described the evacuation like a typical fire drill but perhaps with some nervous tension in the air. The stairwell was full, but not to capacity, and he remarked how calm and composed everyone acted. Adam undoubtedly was in the 44-inch-wide Stairwell C since it was closest to the local elevator, he stepped off moments before, and it was not as wide as a stairwell he would be using in less than 10 minutes.

Adam is unsure of what floor he descended to when an announcement came over the stairwell speakers, but he felt like he had descended approximately 10 flights of stairs. At or about the 51st floor at 8:55 a.m., a somewhat nervous Port Authority fire and safety employee made this announcement in the South Tower: “Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen. Building Two [South Tower] is secure. There is no need to evacuate Building Two. If you are in the midst of evacuation, you may use the re-entry doors and the elevators to return to your office. Repeat, Building Two is secure.”

South Tower World Trade Center, 61st Floor, ~9:00 a.m., September 11, 2001

Like many others, Adam heeded the suggestion to return to his training conference room floor on the 61st floor. His circumstances were unique as he had never personally detected the danger and at some level was likely skeptical. In other words, he knew something had happened but like many, to include the Port Authority, he underestimated the danger in the South Tower. The reality is that at only 22 years of age, having been sent to New York City for job training, having his employer express zero tolerance for being late to training, having no insight into the severity of what was occurring, and having no historical context of the prior attack to the North Tower in 1993, Adam lacked the life experiences to ignore the Port Authority guidance and continue his evacuation. As such, Adam made a judgment call and descended to a floor he could exit. Adam found the local elevators 66, 67, or 68 and waited for one to arrive that would take him back to the 61st floor. Adam never did hear the following message that was made at 9:02 a.m. by a Port Authority fire and safety employee in the South Tower: “May I have your attention, please. Repeating this message. The situation occurred in Building One [North Tower]. If the conditions warrant on your floor, you may wish to start an orderly evacuation.”

Upon getting to the 61st floor Adam stepped out of the local elevator and turned immediately left and walked directly to the east side windows of the South Tower, which faced the East River. As he walked toward the windows, he looked around and didn’t see many people on the floor, and he assumed many had left despite the announcement that prompted him to return to the 61st floor. Adam walked up to the window and placed his right hand on the wall and looked out the 22-inch-wide window. Adam had figuratively back peddled on the survival bridge from the Do step all the way to the Detect step.

Adam was in denial, which many people fall victim to because they underestimate the threat. Now on the Detect step of the survival bridge, Adam looked down and saw fires and smoke on the top of other buildings and pieces of paper and different things floating down below him. As he stood transfixed on what was occurring below him, Adam started thinking about the lack of people on his floor who had not come back and the scene below him, and began to think that this may be far more serious than what the announcement in the stairwell had said. Adam was now on the Deduce step of the survival bridge. Adam feels he was standing at the window for less than a minute, but it may have been a little longer. As he stood at the window, Adam began to wonder if he should stay or evacuate like so many others had. Adam was now on the Debate step when the unimaginable happened.

South Tower World Trade Center, 61st Floor, 9:03 a.m., September 11, 2001

Standing at the window, Adam heard a high-pitched whining sound followed by an explosion or crash into his tower. He would later find out that United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767 from Logan Airport, had been flown into the south face of the South Tower traveling south-to-north at an angle between the 77th and 85th floors. The crash above him cut a huge swath of destruction through the tower followed by jet fuel being ignited. The explosion sent debris out the east and north sides of the tower to include a separated jet engine shown in later photographs that arched north across the sky, landing in the street blocks away.

Standing on the outermost perimeter of the South Tower at the window amplified the lateral movement of the tower. Adam described the sensation following the impact as if the floor was falling out beneath his feet and then rising back up several times in a cyclic motion. Adam struggled to stay on his feet as he looked out the window to try to decipher what was occurring. Sheets of debris fell past his east-facing window as the tower began to stabilize itself from the impact. He stood shocked that the tower had not collapsed. With no engineering or building structural experience, he immediately foresaw that this tower was going to collapse. Adam was no longer on the Deduce or Debate step of what to do next. Adam was on the Decide step again, but it was based on his personal experience. He had an overwhelming urge to get out of the tower and he acted.

Now on the Do step of the survival bridge, Adam turned left toward the central core of the tower, which had a passageway that took him to Stairwell B – 56 inches wide, the widest of the three stairwells. Again, there was no thought of using the elevator, and in fact he later realized that had he been in the elevator just seconds/minutes before when the South Tower was attacked that he perhaps would have been trapped.

Adam opened the Stairwell B door and began to descend quickly; he recalls fewer people evacuating at this point than during his first evacuation. He was now on the long Do step of the survival bridge in his evacuation, and he was moving fast. He recalls looking down between the gap of each stairwell leg to see approximately half of the number of hands on the handrails he had seen in his first evacuation and that concerned him. Had he waited too long? During his descent he moved as quickly as possible and passed slower people on the wider stairwell; Stairwell B was wide enough to allow two people to pass shoulder-to-shoulder without having to lean over the handrail or turn sideways. At some point during his descent, he came upon a man who had gotten through on his cell phone. Overhearing the conversation, Adam came to realize that planes had struck both towers. Adam pressed his descent with greater enthusiasm to escape and moved from the Do step to the Drive step of the survival bridge.

On a lower floor, he recalls being forced out of the Stairwell B onto a floor and having to transfer to another stairwell, likely the narrower Stairwell C, which was causing a large bottleneck of people. His impression was that several stairwells were feeding into one and causing a bottleneck. Adam wanted to get out of the South Tower as he was convinced the tower was going to collapse. His frustration grew as everyone slowed due to the bottleneck, which cost him about five minutes of overall delay. This was when Adam started to become scared about being stuck behind a large group of people and not being able to get out in time. Adam holds a memory that haunts him, and he isn’t sure if it was his imagination or something he truly saw, but he recalls seeing people in wheelchairs at this time. In fact, research has shown that there were many disabled people in wheelchairs and that some had been carried down the steps and out of the building.[ii]

As Adam began his descent again – now in the narrower Stairwell C at 44 inches wide – he noted that the descent moved slower, and he recalls passing firefighters as they moved up toward danger. Adam was an avid runner and didn’t have any issues with descending over 60 flights of stairs; however, his stress and anxiety grew further in the last 10 flights because he desperately wanted to get out the tower like so many other people. In those last flights of stairs, he noticed cracks in the stairwell drywall and a smoky haze in the air.

Reaching the mezzanine level surrounding the lobby, Port Authority officials directed him and others down into the lobby and out the east side of the South Tower, which faced Brooklyn, thus the furthest side from the North Tower, the falling debris, and the jumpers from the North Tower.

South Tower World Trade Center, 61st Floor, 9:40 a.m., September 11, 2001

Adam cleared the South Tower on the east side and walked away from the South Tower to his back. What should have taken him about 30 minutes to descend and exit the South Tower took him about 35-37 minutes, putting him on the street at about 9:40 a.m. Adam had reached the safe side of the survival bridge, the step of Deliver.

Adam recalls crossing Greenwich Street, and then pausing to turn and look up at the gaping holes and massive smoke pouring out from both towers. Continuing east about one block, likely on Cortland Way, he gathered with a large group of people who were looking up at the towers and he thought that if the building collapsed it could hit him. So, Adam didn’t delay: He asked a police officer for directions to his hotel and the police officer pointed north. Adam began to walk north on Church Street.

As Adam walked north, he had the sense that what had occurred that morning constituted a trigger event, and that the U.S. was going to respond and hold those who did this accountable. While walking north with many others, Adam recalls a business owner who had moved a television onto the street and there were people watching the news footage. That was when Adam first saw the footage of the plane striking the South Tower he had just escaped. He immediately realized that his parents were likely scared to death as they knew he was training in that tower. He asked to borrow a woman’s cell phone but was unable to place a call home due to the inordinate number of those placing calls.

At some point on his walk north on Church Street, Adam moved one block to the west to West Broadway Street, which had a more direct line-of-sight to the World Trade Center complex. As he walked and approached Franklin Street, he decided he wanted to capture a picture of the two towers on fire as it dawned on him the historical nature of what was transpiring. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the disposable Kodak camera he had purchased in Arkansas to document his big city adventure. Stopping and turning around, he took a picture looking south while standing just north of 327 West Broadway Street, where Magna Fabrics was once located. Unfortunately, the taller buildings limited visibility of either tower and the picture just showed a smoke filled sky as the smoke drifted east and slightly north or, in other words, from right to left as Adam looked south in the photograph. The time was about 9:56 a.m.

On Broadway Street North of Franklin Street looking south toward the burning towers but only smoke could be seen on September 11 2001 at about 956 am Photo by Adam Staples

Adam decided he wanted a better picture of the towers on fire, so he walked the opposite direction of the smoke and headed west several blocks near the corner of Franklin Street and Greenwich Street. Greenwich Street had a relatively clear line-of-sight all the way to the World Trade Center complex and the two burning towers that were about 11 blocks south.

South Tower World Trade Center, Blocks Away, 9:59 a.m., September 11, 2001

Adam stopped and turned to face the towers and began to raise his camera, and at that moment the South Tower leaned and began its pancaking collapse as the dynamics of each collapsing floor was unsupportable by the floor beneath it. Adam stood dumbfounded watching the South Tower collapse, a tower he had just escaped. The camera in his hands was slowly lowered without a photograph being taken. The time was 9:59 a.m. The concussion of the collapse could be heard and felt and was overwhelming. What he was witnessing was surreal and he just stared in disbelief as the building collapsed. The South Tower was the second of the two towers to be built with initial groundbreaking in January 1969 to first occupancy in January 1972, or three years. The South Tower collapsed in approximately 10 seconds. Adam vividly recalls thinking that a lot of people had just died. Adam also recalls puffs of dust emanating from storm drains near him, but he was not caught up in the debris cloud, which flowed mostly east and south away from his location.

Adam eventually turned around and continued north on Greenwich Street. As he walked north toward the direction of his hotel, he recalls a taxicab parked in the middle of the street with its doors open and the radio turned up loud. The radio was playing news reports, and it dawned on him the gravity and significance of the day. He also recalls that along his walk he stopped and bought a piece of fruit from a vendor as he had not eaten anything yet that morning. Looking back, Adam thinks that perhaps he, like the vendor, was seeking some degree of normalcy amid the chaos in their business transaction.

North Tower World Trade Center, Blocks Away, 10:28 a.m., September 11, 2001

As Adam continued north on Greenwich Street, he likely walked about 23 blocks from when the South Tower had collapsed. Greenwich Street begins to turn northeast at the Bank Street intersection and so it was before that point he heard another familiar and horrible sound. The time was 10:28 a.m., Adam heard a rumble and turned around, and for the second time that day he watched dumbfounded as a second massive building that represented America’s financial power and strength, and one of two iconic architectural towers, began to pancake floor-by-floor under its own weight straight down. Like the South Tower, the North Tower could be felt and heard. The North Tower was the first of the two towers to be built with initial groundbreaking in August 1968 to first occupancy in December 1970. Sadly, it took approximately 10 seconds to collapse.

The Walk to the Hotel, 10:30 a.m., September 11, 2001

Adam’s South Gate Hotel was located at 371 7th Avenue at 31st Street, New York, which is now called the Stewart Hotel. Adam eventually cut over to 8th Avenue and then 7th Avenue to reach his hotel, which was at least another 24 blocks away. The walk between the World Trade Center complex and his hotel would have taken approximately 60 minutes without stopping on a normal day but likely it took Adam longer as he stopped to witness each tower collapse.

Many of Adam’s fellow training colleagues had returned to the hotel earlier in the morning as they had continued descending, unlike Adam who had returned to the 61st floor when the announcement occurred. As such, there was a gap of time between when his colleagues checked in with the hotel lobby and when Adam arrived. The hotel was one of several used by MSDW to house its trainees, and as such the hotel lobby staff began to build a list and account for those MSDW trainees returning to the hotel. Adam’s MSDW employer in Arkansas kept checking back with the hotel and the other Arkansas trainees at the hotel to determine if Adam had returned. As time passed, there was a growing apprehension and concern that something bad had happened to Adam.

Piggott, Arkansas, morning, September 11, 2001

In Adam’s hometown of approximately 3,900 residents, many had known that Adam was at the World Trade Center complex for training and calls were pouring into Adam’s parents, who were very worried. Before leaving for New York, Adam had given his father, Frank, his cellular phone. In 2001, there were large roaming charges for cellular phones, so Adam felt it prudent to leave his phone behind to avoid those costly charges. Throughout that morning, Adam’s friends and others who knew Adam’s number called his cell phone and Adam’s father was forced to answer due to the possibility of it being Adam or news about him. Both father and son shared similar voices and there was a quick outpouring of relief from those on the other end of the call, until Adam’s father had to repeatedly clarify and share that Adam was not accounted for despite many of the MSDW trainees having already checked in with the hotel lobby staff.

Adam’s sister, Stephanie, was a postal carrier and as she made her rounds delivering mail many in the small town knew the sibling connection and that Adam was in New York City, and they repeatedly asked her if she knew what was occurring in Lower Manhattan and/or if she had heard news about him.

Even an hour away from Piggott, in Adam’s college town of Jonesboro, Arkansas, news of Adam and others from Arkansas being at the World Trade Center complex for training was circulating on the local radio. Unbeknownst to him or her, Adam’s future wife, Nicole, whom he had not even met yet, heard the news on the radio and pulled her car over and prayed for him and others.

South Gate Hotel, 7th Avenue at 31st Street, ~10:55 a.m., September 11, 2001

Adam’s cousin Mary, with whom he had spent most of Sunday, was also sick with worry and had come from her MSDW Broadway office to the South Gate Hotel. When Mary inquired about Adam, the lobby front-desk staff referred to their list of MSDW trainees staying in the hotel, and told her that Adam had checked in. Feeling relieved, she called her aunt Donna, Adam’s mother, to report that he had checked in to the hotel lobby and was thus safe. Mary was given Adam’s room number; upon knocking on the room door, it was answered by Adam’s roommate who reported that Adam had not come back yet. After she returned to the lobby front-desk, she grilled the staff on Adam’s true status, and they admitted a mistake was made and he had not checked in. Her heart began to sink and the realization that a worried mother had been wrongly told her son was safe began to bubble up when she turned and saw Adam walking into the lobby. They saw each other and embraced; she was relieved he was safe, and he was in a state of shock from what he had experienced. He recalled his cousin wanting him to crash at her apartment, but he opted to stay at the hotel, likely to better understand what he was supposed to do next.

Adam was finally able to call home to assure his family he was safe and likely returning home by whatever means he could. It was clear to Adam that the training was over, and he had to find a way back to Arkansas considering the nationwide grounding of all commercial aircraft.

He recalled some of the room numbers of those in his training course who had evacuated fully and not returned to the 61st floor like he had. Adam went down and knocked on their doors and they were elated to see he was alive. Adam spent the remainder of the day watching the news, checking in with people, and trying to finalize plans to get home.

September 12, 2001

An older associate in charge of the MSDW Arkansas market was able to secure a van, which was a difficult task undoubtedly because it was to be a one-way trip and the rental agency would be out a vehicle to continue renting. After a 15-minute walk to Times Square and taking a picture of the tickertape news feed showing that Osama bin Laden had taken responsibility, Adam, three fellow trainees, this older associate, and a sixth man who went as far as Memphis, Tennessee, all piled into the van and drove nonstop except for bathroom, gas, and food breaks. Adam admits he didn’t feel safe and secure until he was well on his way home and away from New York City. While on the journey, he noticed a great outpouring of patriotism with American flags being flown over countless overpasses and buildings.

This handful of men rotated driving, including Adam who drove some at night, and the van made the 1,200-mile trip in near-record time. Such a trip today would amount to 18.5 hours if nonstop, so the total trip was likely pushing 20-plus hours. On the morning of September 13, Adam was picked up by his father in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the van was eventually turned in to the rental agency at Little Rock Airport by others.

Adam’s father drove his son to Camp Robinson, a National Guard Base northwest of Little Rock, where Frank worked. There Adam gave a short press interview before they headed to the MSDW office in Jonesboro to check in. Father and son then swung by Arkansas State at Adam’s urging so he could talk to some cross-country team runners and coaches he knew from having just graduated earlier that spring. Adam finally made it home to Piggott in the late afternoon and reunited with his mother and sister.


Immediately after arriving home, Adam became aware of others associating him as a September 11 survivor, and he admits that the attention at times was uncomfortable. Eventually, Adam settled back into life and was trained by MSDW to be a financial advisor and he worked for them for three years in Jonesboro, Arkansas. In 2004, he moved into an insurance position with State Farm in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, where he remains today.

Adam is a survivor of September 11 but he is not tormented by his experience, most likely because he didn’t live in New York City before or after that day and didn’t have any firm roots or personal history with the city. Although he carries with him what occurred that September day, he decided he didn’t want to live in fear, or allow that experience to dictate how he lived. But Adam does struggle with how some were spared that day and why others were not. Adam will admit that loud crashing sounds will unnerve him for a few moments and that he feels a great deal of anxiety at active train crossings. He speculates that the raw energy of the passing train and the rumble of the ground and the movement of air is all very reminiscent of the towers collapsing.

When asked how September 11 changed his life, he smiles and says that it deepened his Christian faith and his relationship to God, who he feels has a purpose for his life. He also feels his experience gave him a deep desire for meaningful conversations with people and he sheepishly admits he would travel almost anywhere to have lunch with Canadian best-selling author Jordan Peterson who wrote a 2018 New York Times Best Seller book titled Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Adam survived a day of chaos on September 11, and part of the experience taught him that we all should fully live our lives each day because we are never promised tomorrow.

Like many survivors, Adam freely shares his September 11 experiences and speaks at various small and large groups. Adam will often show his audiences some keepsakes to include his MSDW badge that was issued on September 10 and a small piece of concrete from the World Trade Center complex. Adam is still on the Divulge step of the survival bridge by sharing his experience with others through speaking opportunities and through this article; he hopes future generations may gain a perspective of what occurred that day from a firsthand account. For now, he lives quietly with his wife Nicole and their two daughters, Abby and Wesley, in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

Final Note

Better understanding the survival bridge as it relates to an infrastructure disaster is hopefully informative and provides context to those challenges people must overcome to cross from the side of danger and death to the side of safety and life.

Sadly, except for a few in the South Tower, those at or above the impact zones within both towers could not escape, or for many reasons never cleared the towers in time before their collapse. New York City saw the largest death toll on September 11 with a total of 2,606 people lost in the World Trade Center towers or killed on the ground by falling debris. Not including the hijackers, September 11 claimed the lives of 2,977 people who died in New York City, the Pentagon, and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

September 11, 2001, still stands as of this writing the deadliest terrorist attack against the United States of America. May we never forget, may we honor those lost lives, and may we learn so as not to repeat history.


The author is responsible for the content of this article. The views expressed do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Intelligence Community, or the U.S. Government.


[i] Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Preliminary Results from the World Trade Center Evacuation Study – New York City, 2003.” September 10, 2004.  As accessed on June 29, 2022, at Preliminary Results from the World Trade Center Evacuation Study — New York City, 2003 (cdc.gov)

[ii] 9/11 Memorial & Museum Blog.  As accessed on May 14, 2023 at Colleagues Use Special Chair to Save Quadriplegic on 9/11 | National September 11 Memorial & Museum (911memorial.org)


Mitchell Simmons
Mitchell Simmons
Dr. Mitchell E. Simmons, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force (Retired) is the Associate Dean and Program Director in the Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Simmons oversees three departments consisting of five concentrations—Emerging Technologies and Geostrategic Resources; Information & Influence Intelligence; Counterproliferation; Cyber Intelligence; and Data Science Intelligence. He teaches courses in Intelligence Collection, National Security Policy and Intelligence, and Infrastructure Assessment Vulnerability, the latter course being part of a Homeland Security Intelligence Certificate program popular with students from the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. Dr. Simmons has almost 30 years of experience in acquisition, engineering, program management, intelligence, and infrastructure vulnerability assessment within key agencies to include National Reconnaissance Office, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and multiple tours with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). His technical expertise includes physical and functional vulnerability of critical infrastructure from conventional explosives, nuclear, ground forces, and asymmetric threats. Dr. Simmons’ niche expertise is the exploitation of hard and deeply buried targets and he has personally collected intelligence in dozens of strategic facilities in overseas locations to include South Korea, Norway, Italy, United States, and Iraq. He participated in targeting and weaponeering recommendations for operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Dr. Simmons is widely published in the classified and unclassified realm and his products have seen diverse readership, to include the national command authority and combatant commands. He is the author of the definitive DoD manual, published by DTRA entitled “Hard Target Field and Assessment Reference Manual” used to educate and drive intelligence collection of this important target set. He is also the co-author of DIA’s definitive Battle Damage Assessment Handbook and has participated in a study by the National Academic of Sciences, Engineering, and Math, entitled “Assessing the Operational Suitability of DOD Test and Evaluation Ranges and Infrastructure.” Dr. Simmons holds a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio University, a M.S. from Central Michigan University which focused on human motivation, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Management from The Union Institute and University which focused on human and organization behavior.

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