Unfortunately the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, California is bringing back some painful memories for me. This is so bad that insurance adjusters aren’t even allowed into the area because there is still a massive search for additional bodies. We may not know the final body count for days. In the meantime a team of specialists is combing the area doing a job none of us can even contemplate.
I was V.P. and Director of Insurance for ABM Industries, Inc. when the 9-11 attack occurred. ABM had 850 people working at the World Trade Center. I was on the first plane out of San Francisco arriving in New York on Wednesday morning. When I arrived at our New York Headquarters I was advised that ABM still have over 140 people missing. We knew some of them had been killed, that was inevitable. The problem was how to get closure. We set up a team of HR specialists who had the assignment of calling the next of kin for each missing person to find out if they had heard from them. As you can imagine, while some of these calls resulted in good news, others were horrendous when the person called realized their loved one was probably gone. I hired a psychologist to provide guidance on how to do this and to work with our traumatized HR staff.
I will never forget the tremendous work these people did that week. They could not change the results, we had 17 employees killed, but they did show compassion and understanding for people who desperately needed it.
This also brought back a memory that was nothing short of miraculous. I went through the NYC metropolitan area meeting our injured employees who had been located in hospitals. I visited one man, an elevator operator, who had survived. He was heartbroken because he said he knew his wife, an elevator operator in the other tower, had not made it. I asked him his wife’s name, and my heart nearly stopped, because I had just come from her hospital room. I signaled my assistant to verify this, because I sure didn’t want to get this wrong. He quickly reported that yes she was the woman we had just visited. So I was able to tell this man that not only was his wife alive, she was in the same hospital.
Neither of them had any hope that the other had survived. I informed hospital staff and almost immediately they put both of them in the same room.
It is a reminder that in the worst of times, miracles can and do still happen.