Radix - World Trade Center

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bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Message from Ben Wisner (this page)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Maureen Fordham wrote: "Where were you on 11th September 2001?" Caught on the wrong side of the 'command and control' model (this page)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) jmitchel@rci.rutgers.edu wrote:
(this page)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) David Alexander: Nature's Impartiality, Man's Inhumanity: Reflections on Terrorism and World Crisis in a Context of Historical Disaster (click to download file)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) David Alexander: From Principles of Emergency Planning and Management, by David Alexander, copyright 2002 by Terra Publishing, UK, and Oxford University Press, USA. Box 12: Terrorist Attacks on the United States, 11 September 2001 (click to download file)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) The People's Geography Project: http://www.peoplesgeography.org/ has developed a page with links and resources on this topic here.

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) A Note on Moral Conditioning by Ronen Shamir (click to get to another page)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Humanism and Terror: Scoping the Problem of Violence On Early 21st Century Planet Earth by
Ben Wisner
(click to get to another page)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) FIELD OBSERVATIONS OF LOWER MANHATTAN IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER DISASTER, September 30, 2001 by James K. Mitchell et al (click here to download a Word file)

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) International Institute for Environment and Development: Insecurity on a Small Planet http://www.iied.org/sept11.html

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Women at Ground Zero - by Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba

Dear Colleagues and Friends,                       back to top

The events of 11 September were a great shock for everyone. We grieve, and we attempt to understand. Maureen Fordham, co founder of RADIX, and I have been wondering if RADIX can play any role in the reflections, the groping toward understanding that is now necessary.

RADIX is supposed to be a free, independent, virtual library of material on "radical interpretations of disasters and radical solutions." Its sister discussion list has a related function: the free discussion of these interpretations and solutions.

I'm sure many of us at this moment have more questions than we have answers. Perhaps it would be good to share some of these questions via this RADIX list.

Hazard and disaster researchers and practitioners are currently discussing what lessons can be learned from the loss of perhaps more than 6,000 lives in New York. It is hard to "get back to work" or to see what we do as significant, as making any difference, in light of such a great, international loss (persons from 80 nations were in the World Trade Center towers, and New York City search and rescue teams that had participated in the aftermath of earthquakes in Turkey and Japan were wiped out; the international connections and ripple effects are enormous).

Yet it is important that we do get back to work, and that we use our skills and experience to prevent future attacks, to make cities safer.

Norman Foster, the architect and urban designer responsible for the Great Court at the British Museum, the new German Reichstag building, and many other innovative plans and structures has written this about the attack:

"Nothing could have prepared any of us for the unprecedented scale of the devastation. Its consequences will affect everyone involved with the creation of buildings and infrastructure. I am certain that the needs of an open society to live, work, and travel will prevail, but I believe that we owe it to the victims to ensure that we understand every aspect of this tragedy and that its lessons are absorbed and acted upon."

To kick off such an attempt to understand, to learn lessons, may I offer some brief thoughts about three areas where those concerned with some of the six or seven core areas addressed by the RADIX web site can contribute to "understanding every aspect of this tragedy"?

1. RECOVERY. How will individuals, families, firms, the affected neighborhoods, and Manhattan recover? What precedents are there? What can be learned from the
recovery in Mexico City following the 1985 earthquake, or in Kobe, where the
total death toll is about the same (although the areal extent and involvement
of infrastructure much greater). Or are wartime precedents more revealing
(Hiroshima, Dresden)?

2. URBAN DESIGN AND URBANISM. How will these events influence the architecture and construction of infrastructure in cities in the future? This line of discussion would address the challenge of which Norman Foster writes above. Is it possible to conceptualise a "secure city" in a holistic way that brings in not only public safety from terrorist attack, but public health, mitigation and prevention of technological, environmental, and natural hazards as well as preparedness? Can this be done within the existing context of "healthy cities" or "sustainable cities"? And, if so, to what extent must justice and equity questions also accompany such a broad discussion of well being, of a "culture of prevention"?

3. ROOT CAUSES OF VULNERABILITY. Taking Norman Foster's appeal to "understand every aspect of this tragedy" literally and seriously, then geographers (and others) must explore the root causes, dynamic pressures, leading to unsafe
conditions that constituted, at that point in time (historical, seasonal, diurnal) the vulnerability of people in and around the World Trade Center.

At a global, macro scale, this must include looking at the causes of such violent misdeeds in the contemporary patterns of economic and political power in the world, the geography of grievance and bitterness, and their historical origins. Clare Short, Britain's minister for overseas development has stated that success in the struggle with poverty and injustice worldwide is a more effective way of combating terrorism than conventional warfare, and so has Britain's ambassador to NATO as well as former National Security Advisor in the Clinton Administration, Anthony Lake.

At the other end of a continuum of scale, there are the life geographies of perhaps thirty Mexican restaurant workers who found themselves at the top of one of the towers. My colleague in making the United Nations University videos on citizen based disaster mitigation in Mexico City and Los Angeles is currently working in New York with Teyepec, a support center for Mexican migrants to that city, trying to identify their families and provide support. The patterns of vulnerability, impact, and recovery (or failed recovery) will be made up of many such smaller pieces of a zig saw puzzle.

I am sure that many of you have other ideas of the ways in which we as human beings and citizens of various countries, and also as engineers, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, economists, health workers, development workers, environmental activists, lawyers, policy experts, etc., etc., can put our knowledge and skill to work learning AND APPLYING the lessons of this heart breaking tragedy.

Please let RADIX hear from you.

Warm regards,


Dr. Ben Wisner
Visiting Researcher, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics
Co-founder of RADIX

Maureen Fordham wrote: "Where were you on 11th September 2001?" Caught on the wrong side of the 'command and control' model                               back to top

Dear Radix Colleagues and Friends

I have been hesitating to add my voice to the discussion around the World Trade Center . even here I pause to wonder which word to put next - 'event' is too tame a word; 'atrocity' has connotations linking it to a rhetoric
of evil and an uncritical demonising of the perpetrators (not that it should be thought for a moment that I am avoiding condemnation of these acts or minimising their impact) - 'disaster', certainly. Why are some of us
bereft of words? I would like to begin by adding a gender dimension to the debate and then go on to make just a few of the many points that I could make.

For many days men dominated our newspapers and TV screens. Typically, the women who were shown tended to be weeping mothers, wives, daughters, sisters - "men must work and women must weep". The lack of women writers in the print media was noted by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian (20.9.2001) where she also reported on a Guardian poll which showed a distinct gender differentiation in attitudes to proposed military action. The crash images themselves are reminiscent of (usually male) children's games of crashing objects into their building blocks and I believe they resonate more for men than for women. Men have dominated the debate which has revolved around military action. This has had the effect of silencing many - women and men - who felt just as deeply but could not wholeheartedly endorse the language of war and retribution, or the flag-waving and religious observances. Some of us felt that to question any of these displays would be seen as, at the least, disrespectful and, at the worst, aligning ourselves with 'the others - "you are either with us or you're against us".

I would endorse a point made by Alice Miles in The Times and reported by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian: "for many women the 'extent of the horror was in itself a bar to certainty', while men have translated their 'outrage
into concrete demands'." (The Guardian 20.9.2001). I also echo Ilan Kelman's question (see Radix discussion list): "Is it appropriate to create a war disaster - involving infrastructure destruction, economic damage, psychological scarring, and social break-up-in response to the disaster of terrorism which itself caused all these?" What we are beginning to see now are more of the 'indirect' effects; these are not so obvious as bodies and body parts pulled from the rubble but will have impacts on people's lives and livelihoods for some time to come. I want to make the point that I believe much of the pain and distress that has occurred, is happening not as a result of the attack itself but as a result of the form of disaster management imposed - the largely masculine and militaristic 'command and control' model. I am reminded of the oft-quoted graffiti which said "first the earthquake, then the disaster" (noted by Tony Oliver-Smith and others).

Precisely at the time of the World Trade Center disaster I was sitting on a plane at London Heathrow, along with my husband and daughter, waiting to take off for New York. We were en route to our son's wedding to be held
in Kansas City on Friday 14th September. The plane, of course, did not take off. We were kept on the plane for nearly 4 hours because Heathrow was full of people and there was no room for us - and many others - to disembark. Someone on the aircraft had a mobile phone and so we heard what then seemed to be an outrageous example of the rumour machine. We could hardly believe that this could actually have happened. Meanwhile, our families - knowing we were flying to New York some time that day - were unsure of our whereabouts. If we were in the UK and had not taken off, then why did we not ring to reassure them? In the US, our son had a bad few hours wondering if we might be part of the victim list. We returned home safely and rang our family members. We then spent the next few days, right up to the morning of the wedding, either on the phone or watching the news, trying to get a flight to the US. We never made it and the wedding went ahead without us.

This is just a small piece of unhappiness amongst so much grief, and it may not count for much to those directly bereaved by the disaster, but it caused - and still causes - considerable psychological distress to our family. There are many more stories which could be told to illustrate the extensive ripple effect of this and other disasters. I believe the closing of US airspace - a typically militaristic response - to have greatly exacerbated the pain and suffering and long term stress effects of this incident/event/..... It did the classic thing of controlling people in space and time, separating families and networks at just that time when people needed to be together. I can already hear the many rational arguments justifying the response but for me the reaction - spread as it was over several days - was incommensurate. Some people have since reported how they feared - and still fear - to fly after the event. For me, I was desperate to fly to get to my son's wedding, to be with him after we had been separated for 2 months. This may sound the story of a rather pathetic, clinging mother but in fact my husband and my daughter felt the same. How much worse for those who feared their family and friends might be under the rubble? We must also ask whose livelihoods will be most impacted as the economic effects continue to unfold? It may not be the most obvious.

Finally, I cannot avoid comparing this disaster with others. I reiterate, I do not underestimate the enormity of the event, nor gloss over differences between so-called natural disasters such as earthquakes and human-induced ones, but perhaps 30,000 people died in the Bhuj earthquake of 26th January 2001 and yet the coverage, support, and publicly shared pain was a fraction of that generated by what happened in the US. Figures reported in The Guardian showed the enormous sums of money collected for this disaster - in just one week! - compared to the comparatively puny amounts for Gujarat (American Red Cross = $69m for WTC, but only $14m for Gujarat - reported 20.9.2001 but much more now). Some have remarked on the global nature of the WTC disaster, the international character of those caught up within it, as a reason for its global reach but there are also large numbers of Gujaratis all over the world; the reach of the Bhuj earthquake, in human terms, is easily as great. However the symbolic nature of the WTC disaster is (partly) what separates it from Bhuj. The attack on the heart of the liberal west and on structures emblematic of capitalist values demanded a significant response from the global media which supports it. What silences many is a reaction to these media constructions of appropriate emotions, attitudes and behaviours.

It is known that Internet participation is gendered. Women are much more inhibited about expressing their opinions in public to email discussion lists. I certainly have felt this today with this piece. Even now I hesitate to send it out - perhaps I should show it to sympathetic friends first? Maybe I should not say this or that? With some effort of will I am sending it out, unfinished, unrefereed and unedited, even though it does not really express all that I am thinking and feeling. I know that if I re-read it I will probably not send it but I would greatly value hearing your
thoughts on the form of emergency response and the role of the media.



28 September 2001

jmitchel@rci.rutgers.edu wrote:                       back to top

At a time when many are still reeling from the destruction of New York's World Trade Center as well as the attack on the Pentagon and the associated crashes of hijacked passenger aircraft, it is difficult to focus on the subject of research. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on geographers to consider how best , as professionals and citizen-scholars, we might make use of our expertise in the aftermath of those events. What follows is an attempt to present some ideas from the viewpoint of a practitioner in one of Geography's specialized subfields - Hazards Research.

For over 50 years geographers have been investigating the varied interactions among humans and the non-human world that give rise to environmental hazard. Most of this work has addressed human responses to natural or technological risk but there have also been studies of the human dimensions of social hazards including occasional work on violent quasi-political action of the kind that is usually labelled terrorism.

This is not the place to review those studies, though such a review is surely both necessary and timely as an aid to identifying appropriate directions for further research. Instead, in the paragraphs that follow, I venture to make some suggestions about an appropriate geographical research agenda on terrorism that advances knowledge while also contributing to the formulation and execution of wise public policies.

Observation and documentation of human behavior under conditions of surprise, stress and uncertainty are bedrock practices of hazards research. It is by learning what people actually do in hazardous places and circumstances that geographers have made the most telling additions to knowledge and policy. Despite the vast coverage that September 11 has received in the mass media we know relatively little about the ways that institutions, groups and individuals across the United States and around the world assessed and came to terms with what they witnessed either directly or indirectly. Therefore, the first and most obvious contribution that geographers can make is to go into the field and collect the experiences, views and knowledge of people who were victims, hazard professionals, volunteer helpers, nearby onlookers or part of the more distant audience to which most of us belong. We need to know not only how people participated in the human tragedies and environmental dislocations of September 11, or learned about them, or made decisions in response to them, but also how considerations of space, place, environment and location were reflected in thoughts and actions. In this respect it will be especially important to have input from the many groups that are not likely to have their experiences and views recorded by or reflected in conventional public information media. If there are more terrorism attacks in the future, this kind of knowledge will be invaluable in helping to combat them.

Beyond the collection of so-called "perishable" information about public responses to terrorism events, geographers can direct attention to the need for a more sophisticated understanding of terrorism as a hazard. In this they may be guided by some hard won lessons of previous research about hazards.

One of these is the myopia of attributing hazards solely to external forces that impinge on society. This ignores the roles that victims have always played in courting danger while seeking the benefits to be derived from risk-taking behavior in unforgiving circumstances without due regard to the need for mitigating actions. It also ignores the role of people who contribute to the creation of disaster because they lack means to buffer themselves from the agents of risk.

Second is the folly of seeking to explain hazards (and their effects) as outcomes of short causal chains with few intervening variables. Not only are the causal chains of terrorism likely to be long and involved, with many proximal and distal variables, but they are embedded in complex contexts that help to structure events without entirely determining them. Teasing apart these relationships will place a high premium on collaborative research among many different kinds of geographers and with researchers from many other fields.

Third is the reflexive nature of hazard which requires continuous adjustment and readjustment by affected populations as human responses and other variables begin to alter initial distributions of risk and vulnerability. The hazards of terrorism that we confront today are not quite what they were on or before September 11, nor will they long remain the same in the future. Although it may be impossible to predict those changes with precision, hazards researchers have much to offer in the way of techniques that indicate trends, rates of change and patterns of spatial restructuring as well as shifts in the matrix of choices that are available.

Finally, while hazard is a joint product of risk and vulnerability, researchers know far more about risks than about vulnerabilities. This finding has considerable importance in the current situation because the agents and victims of terrorism are both subject to major vulnerabilities - albeit of different kinds. Although much effort in the coming years will be devoted to assessing the risks of terrorist acts for purposes of avoidance and prevention, greater attention to vulnerability-sensitive strategies is needed and may prove to be more effective in the long run. For example, exploration of links between values and vulnerability could be a prime subject in future research. For the threat of terrorism is only useful as a weapon in relation to its perceived effect on what we value; terrorists know this better than most.

As the disasters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon illustrates so starkly, places and the people who make them are differentially valued by humans. That knowledge has been used for ill by those who selected the cherished targets of September 11 but it can also be used for good by those who the have responsibilities for ensuring human safety. Either way, the values-vulnerability nexus is now a neglected topic in the broader reaches of research that deserves greater attention.

There are other themes of hazards research that are worthwhile to revisit in light of our new situation. They include the tendency to forget what is already known about past hazard events and about human capabilities for constructive responses as well as failures to put into practice what is remembered. Also noteworthy are barriers to communication and cooperation that keep knowledge about hazard from being shared with those who might profitably use it. Even more important is the necessity of looking beyond recovery from today's emergency to prudent strategies that will avoid recreating the conditions that produced it. All of these and more are valuable insights from the hazard geographer's book of experience. This knowledge can help to guide us through a period of great uncertainty.

Though thoroughly abhorrent, the events of September 11 may serve to advance the boundaries of research in unforeseen ways. For example, they may force us to revisit persistent vexing issues about Society's engagement with Nature, including tensions between deliberate and inadvertent action, proactive and reactive behavior, explanations of choice that pit material considerations against the power of ideas and so forth. They may also offer opportunities to examine existing geographical debates from unfamiliar angles. Among the latter are questions about the impacts of new information and communications technologies like e-mail, the Internet, cell phones and Geographic Information Systems. In the benign environment of expansive consumerism which attended the spread of these technologies at the end of the twentieth century, little thought was given to their roles in circumstances of acute personal hazard. Now it may be possible to identify and examine a whole new range of uses for these technologies and to readjust the public debate about their effects on such matters as land use and development patterns, issues of privacy and surveillance, collective rights versus individual ones, and tensions between our virtual selves and the very real bodies that we inhabit.

The preceding represent just a few of the research implications of September 11 for the discipline of Geography. It is by no means an exhaustive list of the possibilities. Whether we choose to engage with these topics or others, the challenge is fundamentally the same. A new road with many possibilities lies before us. We might not have sought to make this particular journey but we must now choose how to set out.

James K. Mitchell
Department of Geography
Rutgers University
September 20, 2001     download this paper

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For questions regarding this website, contact: maureen.fordham@northumbria.ac.uk | This page was last updated on 23 July 2003