This month marks nineteen years since the attacks of September 11th. National Preparedness Month is also recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year.
The 2020 theme is: Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.
For many, the memory of that awful September day in 2001 is fading, but my memories are still vivid down to my shirt and tie. The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing, but it ended so dark and frightening. The feeling of anger and uncertainty spread around us like a cloaking fog.
That feeling is around us again as COVID-19 has changed our lives, and the future is uncertain as we all work through this “new normal.”
Every year since the attacks, I choose to pay tribute to the three elements that create my memory of that day. First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the U.S. Capitol or the White House and thousands of other lives. Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.
Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day. Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive. They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession. They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves. They went in to save people with disabilities.
And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers. I was not watching the horror on television that morning. I had a meeting at 10:00, and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone. Later, someone told me of the collapse. My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.
This year I also pay tribute to the doctors, nurses, medical support staff, direct care staff, and first responders who put their lives on the line trying to save others from COVID-19. They also ran toward danger to help others, and many paid with their health or their lives.
How many people with disabilities died that morning in September may never be known. We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities. We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out. We do know that others stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them. We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them. We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.
In the same manner how many people with disabilities have died from COVID-19 may never be accurately known. We do know that nearly 40% of the COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes where many people with disabilities are forced to live. We do know that people with disabilities living in the community have been isolated by the lack of community-based direct support workers. We do know that the government is not tracking the deaths of people with disabilities as a COVID-19 statistic.
Every victim of these national tragedies needs to be remembered and honored. I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who stayed behind that September day. I also honor the nearly 200,000 persons who have died in this pandemic.
As I say each year, let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001, by getting prepared and staying prepared. You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end.