In the hours and days after the airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, people did not flock to automated teller machines to withdraw cash indeed, some banks and networks said they experienced less ATM use than usual on Sept. 11 and 12.
Though debit card use at the point of sale did spike particularly in the aftermath of the attack, as people rushed to fuel their cars and buy groceries the fact that there was no corresponding run on cash may have meant that people were more concerned about rushing home to find their loved ones and with following the unfolding events on television.
Despite the horrific nature of the assaults, there wasnt a feeling of a collapsing of the banking system, where now were not going to be able to get out money, said Martin Kluger, a behavioral and cognitive psychologist with offices in Great Neck, N.Y., and Teaneck, N.J.
None of the large electronic funds transfer networks said they saw marked increases in the use of ATMs after the disaster. Volume numbers and withdrawals varied from bank to bank, but on a regional level, ATM use remained normal.
The NYCE network, which is predominant in the Northeast, would have been the likeliest of the regional EFTs to see a spike but did not.
Our volume has been trending quite normally, said Cheryl Calo, a spokeswoman for NYCE, which is majority-owned by First Data Corp. of Denver. Were just assuming there is a subset of people who are doing a higher-than-normal volume and another subset thats doing a lower-than-normal volume, and theyre canceling each other out.
The countrys largest EFT network, Star, saw an ATM volume increase of less than 10% on the date of the tragedy, which it considered moderate.
People were not massively using ATMs as a first response, said Melinda Mercurio, a spokeswoman for Concord EFS, the Memphis-based owner of Star. There were no lines at ATMs, but there were long lines at the gas stations to put gas in their cars. Supermarkets also had long lines, she said, and people may have used debit cards at the point of sale to get cash back.
Houston-based Pulse EFT Association, which covers 22 central states from the Gulf Coast to the Canadian border, had no change in ATM use on the day of the attack or the day after. We did not see any changes in either point of sale or ATMs, said Mary Brown, senior vice president at Pulse. It was steady, it was normal volume.
Individual banking companies did see some noteworthy changes. Bank of America Corp., for one, saw an instant drop in ATM traffic nationwide, according to spokesman Brad Russell. He would not specify the nationwide percentage but did say that in California, ATM use declined 20% last week.
Mr. Russell said it was hard to explain why use dropped so quickly, but he speculated that people were staying close to home instead of traveling or going to restaurants and movies. Thus, the need for cash was significantly less.
Manhattan-based Citigroup Inc. did see some increases in ATM use as well as higher withdrawal amounts but would give no specific numbers. It was forced to close 13 of its downtown Manhattan branches.
North Fork Bancorp. Inc. of Melville, N.Y., didnt see an extraordinary usage either way, said John Adam Kanas, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
One banking company that suffered throughout last week was Bank of New York Co., which wholly lost use of its 350 ATMs in a network failure. It said Thursday that all its ATMs were back up and running as of Wednesday night, Sept. 19. Since the companys headquarters is near the World Trade Center, telecommunications companies were not able to reroute connections to our back-up system and our ATMs, said Robert Grieves, a Bank of New York spokesman.
Mr. Grieves had no tally of transactions that customers did at alternative ATM sites, but he said that the company will refund all surcharges.