The “Forgotten” 9/11 Responders

The 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference is almost here again, this year the Conference will be held over the 21-22 May at The Star Gold Coast.

Dr Erin Smith, Senior Lecturer from Edith Cowan University joins us to discuss The “Forgotten” 9/11 Responders: Sharing the Stories of Recovery Workers and 911 Dispatchers’.

Dr Erin Smith

For most people, the story of 9/11 begins and ends with the collapse of the twin towers. The focus on the response to the terrorist attacks and the majority of attention in the aftermath has been on the uniformed emergency first responders. The initial response by 911 dispatchers and eventual recovery operation that lasted for around eight months is often overlooked, generally relegated to nothing more than a few scenes of footage tacked on to 9/11 media that usually surfaces around each anniversary.

Few of us realise that the desperate calls for help came in without pause that the morning, more than 3,000 of them in the first 10 minutes. Throughout the day, more than 55,000 calls would come in. New York’s already overworked and stressed 911 dispatchers were thrust into a situation for which no training could adequately prepare them. Forced to improvise answers with little to no information. Haunted by the confronting content of those calls, many now live with feelings of guilt and overwhelming sadness.

If you watch any of the footage of the aftermath at Ground Zero, you will no doubt see thousands of people climbing on top of the pile, carefully looking for victims while also clearing the immense pile of smouldering debris. Have you ever wondered who those people were? They were regular people, most of them volunteering from all over the United States to work on top of the mountain of still-burning rubble, breathing in toxic smoke for days and weeks in hopes of doing some good.

This presentation will share the personal stories of some of the 9/11 dispatchers and recovery workers, ensuring that these important and unique perspectives are not lost, and that lessons can be shared to build resilience among a broader spectrum of disaster responders in the future.


Dr Erin Smith is a Senior Lecturer and Course Coordinator for the Master of Disaster and Emergency Response at Edith Cowan University. Erin is a member of the Board of Directors of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WADEM) where she also holds the positions of Deputy Chair of the Oceania Chapter and Co-Convenor of the Psychosocial Special Interest Group. Erin is currently a member of the Research Committee of the Australian and New Zealand College of Paramedicine, the Victorian Chapter of Paramedics Australasia and the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association.

For more information on the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference and to secure your spot, visit the conference website.