One World In The Morning, Another In The Afternoon

Register now

NEW YORK - On the morning of September 11, employees of XCEL FCU were right where they were every other morning, riding the subway to the station in the cavernous base of the World Trade Center, exiting across the crowded platform and riding some of the world's busiest elevators to the 39th floor and preparing to serve members.

Elsewhere on that morning four employees of FAA Eastern Region FCU went through much the same, normal routine as they got ready for another ordinary Tuesday of handling deposits and processing loans and answering member questions.

On that morning at 8:45 a.m., "normal" would cease to be. The first of the two hijacked airliners struck the north tower of the World Trade Center, leading to the evacuation of many from the building even though it was suspected to be just an "accident." That perception changed not just for workers in the WTC but for everyone at 9:03 a.m., when a second aircraft hit the south tower. Both towers would eventually collapse, killing nearly 3,000 people but sparing the lives of all of the credit unions' employees, who escaped to the panicked streets of Manhattan even though their offices were vaporized in a way never imagined in any disaster plan.

On that morning, credit union executives from across the country were in Washington either getting dressed in their hotel rooms or already riding in taxis to Northeast C Street, just blocks from the U.S. capitol, to celebrate the opening of Credit Union House. A little after 9:43 a.m., having already heard the reports from New York, many noticed smoke could be seen across the Potomac in Northern Virginia. They would soon learn that terrorists had struck again, with another aircraft hitting the Pentagon. Again, thankfully, employees of a branch of Pentagon FCU escaped harm.

'Are You Serious?'

On that morning in Miami Beach, Fla., nearly 200 credit union executives were beginning the second day of The Credit Union Journal's Business Development Conference, unaware of what was going on in New York and Washington. Soon cell phones were ringing in the audience. One woman from a Northern New Jersey credit union left the room in tears. Credit Union Journal Publisher Frank J. Diekmann interrupted a speaker in the middle of her presentation to alert the audience of what is happening and, especially important to a group with afternoon flights home, inform them that all air traffic has been grounded.

"Are you serious?" finally asks one audience member in disbelief.

By that afternoon America and the world and credit unions were different places. Around the country numerous credit unions, led by those serving police and firefighters, were working to establish memorial funds. The New York league set up a command post in New York City.

Members of several credit unions, including Municipal CU, took advantage of the trust put in them, and essentially stole thousands of dollars by overdrawing their accounts at ATMs because communication systems are down.

In Gander, Newfoundland, credit unions helped with the thousands of travelers diverted to the airport when air traffic is grounded for six days. Paper records blowing around lower Manhattan raise fears of widespread ID theft. CUNA initially says it will hold its Symposeum set for two weeks later in San Francisco, but then cancelled it.

CU execs at meetings all over the country are forced to take circuitous routes home. Some even buy cars in one city just to sell them when they get home.

On that morning, credit unions opened their doors preparing to serve their members as they always had. On that night, credit unions closed their doors wondering how they would serve members the next day. (c) 2007 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.