Excerpt from the book
Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You´re Told to Do Is Wrong
by Ira Chaleff, Chapter Eleven, p.159-161
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla was on the job as a vice president for security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which had some 3,700 employees in the World Trade Center, including 2,700 in the south tower…
Rescorla had come to Dean Witter years earlier, prior to its acquisition by Morgan Stanley, to head up its security operation. A professional who was unusually alert to systemic danger, Rescorla, with the help of a former military colleague, quickly appraised the danger of terrorist attack to the twin towers. The towers, the tallest buildings in the world at that time, were symbols of Western culture, which was under attack by radical Middle East groups that had perpetrated a number of serious bombing attacks over the previous few years. The towers were particularly vulnerable due to their structural overreliance on internal supporting columns. Rescorla and his colleague wrote a detailed assessment of the risks for the Port Authority of New York, who owned the buildings, giving remedial recommendations. These recommendations were dismissed as too costly and politically unpalatable.
In 1993, with Rescorla on duty, the towers were subject to a massive truck bomb attack in the underground garage, which caused significant damage and casualties. This event reinforced Rescorla’s well-reasoned concerns about the vulnerability of the towers and the potential for being the target of subsequent, more lethal attack. He was not able to persuade Morgan Stanley executives to abandon their lease and move out of the buildings. But he did achieve support for his insistence on implementing evacuation drills at monthly intervals to prepare for such an attack. Knowing the cost of having 3,700 employees of a New York investment firm take time to do safety drills, this in itself is noteworthy. Reports indicate that he had to stand up to the pressure of high-powered executives who resented the intrusion on their and their staff’s schedules. This was the prior act of Intelligent Disobedience that made his subsequent act on 9/11 awesomely effective.
When the first plane hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001, Rescorla saw the tower burning from his office on the he forty-fourth floor of the south tower. We can imagine the on tsurge of adrenaline he experienced at that moment. Unlike many others who felt shock, panic, and confusion, Rescorla had a plan and had practiced it. So when the announcement from the Port Authority came over the public address urging people to stay at their desks, there was no hesitation on recognizing this was a directive to ignore and to counter emphatically. This was the quintessential act of Intelligent Disobedience performed without hesitation that saved thousands of lives.
Rescorla grabbed his bullhorn, walkie-talkie, and cell phone and began systematically ordering Morgan Stanley employees to evacuate the south tower and the adjacent World Trade Center 5 building…
All but three of Morgan Stanley’s employees escaped with their lives. That is a staggering achievement in the face of nearly two thousand lives lost in the towers that day. One who didn’t survive was Rescorla, who went back into the building searching for any stranded employees. That last act was one of heroism, which has been honored appropriately with medals and public praise. But the great lessons of developing his own situational awareness of risk, of persuading the power structure of the organization to respond at least partially to that risk, of creating plans to mitigate the risk, of rehearsing those plans with thousands of people and employing informed and Intelligent Disobedience at the moment those plans needed urgent implementation have not received the full attention they deserve.
On 9/11 2016 let’s remember the lesson in Intelligent Disobedience from 9/11/2001 that saved 2700 lives
2016 © Ira Chaleff Publications