Some Time In New York City

I have three very strong memories of September 11th 2001.

The first is of getting up very early to catch a coach from Toulon in the south of France to Nice airport, flying back to England.

The second is of the jazz club team stuffing envelopes for a mail shot, discussing the events of the day.

And the third – well, the third we all share: the iconic attacks on and collapse of buildings in lower Manhattan.

I was due to fly out to the USA ten days later to attend a DataEase conference in Wilmington, Delaware (home town of the current vice-president). All flights had been immediately cancelled, and I fully expected that they’d be still be so badly backlogged by the 21st that there would be no way I’d be getting on one. As it was, a near-normal service took me across the Atlantic to Philadelphia.

Although the conference was only a couple of days, I’d book a ten-day trip, but hadn’t made clear plans as to what to do with the rest of time. I was aware that the Office Of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) were DataEase users, as I’d met their Deputy Commissioner, Tom Brondolo, at a Delaware conference in previous years, and he was a subscriber to Dialogue, the magazine that I edited on behalf of the UK-based DataEase User Group. OCME basically investigates apparently unnatural deaths in the five boroughs of New York, and was suddenly dealing with what was then thought might be 15,000 extra cases: the victims of the attacks.

I was also aware that Sapphire USA’s Naeem Ullah was frantically trying to adapt their system to cope with aspects of the disaster. Naeem is fellow Brit of Pakistani background who had grown up in the same part of London that I was then living in. I note with irony that Paul McCartney, in an interview in the Guardian newspaper, said about the post 9/11 fund-raising concert at which he performed: “I felt for the Americans, 'cos I was there, living with them. It wasn't like I was living in Muswell Hill thinking, 'We shouldn't do anything.'” Interesting area to single out, Sir Paul, as both Naeem and I have lived in Muswell Hill!

So through these connections, I ended up offering the remaining few days of my trip to help. And that might have been all that I did, except …

They Also Serve

Well, to be honest, we spend a lot of time sat around waiting. Mayor Guilliani had promised the families of victims – who had most likely lost their main bread winner – an ‘expedited death certificate process’. This basically meant that, if they could prove that their loved one was a likely victim, even before their remains had been identified, they could get the documentation they needed to get on with insurance and other claims.

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