We're hosting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum 5K on Sunday, the 24th, in person for the first time since 2019. The route of the race follows the path rescue and recovery workers took to access Ground Zero on 9/11 and in the days and weeks that followed. Participants pay tribute to them by running and walking in their footsteps. Below, you'll hear from 9/11 survivor Stephen Walsh about his ordeal that day and why the 5K is meaningful to him.
On 9/11, I was serving as NYC’s Executive Director at the E-Government Office and was part of a leadership team involved in supporting emergency response and recovery efforts, including the telecommunications and technology restoration of the city’s government.
My colleagues and I were driving over the Verrazano Bridge that morning and saw smoke and fire coming from one of the Twin Towers. Then when the second tower was hit, we knew we were under attack. We eventually drove up the West Side Highway to assist and support in the response effort. I was with colleagues from the mayor's office and NYC DoITT [Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications] verifying the relocation of emergency management operations due to damage sustained to 7 WTC, where the Office of Emergency Management command center was located. During this exchange, the first tower began to collapse, forcing us to run for our lives. We were dodging debris and trying to avoid being enveloped by the cloud of toxic dust. Unfortunately, the cloud did envelope our team, but we were able to seek refuge in the Surrogates Court on Centre Street. We left the refuge there to aid the public when the second tower collapsed.
An amazing story that doesn't get enough recognition was the build out and restoration of command center operations at Pier 92 in NYC. This was one of the largest government disaster recovery and business continuity efforts on American soil. I was grateful and proud to have been an integral part of an emergency response team led by the mayor’s office and NYC OEM. We were able to build out a new command center and restore government operations and communications at Pier 92 within 48 hours of the attacks, while also working through our grief, fears, and own personal losses.
I’m participating in the 9/11 Memorial 5K because, as a 9/11 survivor, it’s important to remember the sacrifices of those who never made it home, and the families who have had to move on without them, and to always remember our obligation to not only honor their memory, but to also live our lives with sense of purpose, courage, and sacrifice.
Surviving 9/11 was only just the beginning of the physical and mental battles many continue to face and succumb to daily, from upper respiratory disease to debilitating cancer and mental disorders such as PTSD. I also lost several colleagues and friends on 9/11, including some from the FDNY (I was previously the Assistant Commissioner at FDNY) and they made the ultimate sacrifice to keep NYC safe.
Over the past 20 years, my colleagues, friends, and family members have suffered and continue to suffer from 9/11 related illnesses — for them it’s never over. It’s these ongoing silent battles happening in people’s lives that need to be recognized and supported. Join me on April 24 to support all the heroes who ran toward danger to help others that day: there's still time to register at runwalk.911memorial.org.
By Stephen Walsh