Public Service Innovators -- Heeding the Call of September 11th Gail Clott, State and Local Government Executive Session 2000

One of a series of profiles of members of the extended Kennedy School community who responded to the crisis after the September 11th attacks

September 10, 2002
Lory Hough

With a daughter sick at home, New Yorker Gail Clott (State and Local Government Executive Session 2000) didn't go to work the day terrorists leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center. But like many other city employees, she was quickly yanked into the chaos. After the towers collapsed, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put out a request: each city agency had to send one representative to help him rebuild the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which was facing its own emergency after the building it was housed in, 7 World Trade Center, caught on fire and also collapsed. As the lead agency in the city's rescue and recovery operations, it was critical that the office be up and running quickly.
Center. Within 48 hours a new space was secured (first at the policy academy, then at Pier 92, a passenger ship terminal on the Hudson) and Clott, a policy and planning commissioner with the Department of Homeless Services, was staffing the agency's makeshift press office.
Everything, she said, moved quickly. Reporters wanted as much information as they could get, even when little was available. Shifts lasted 12 hours and, at one point, included only two others: a representative from the National Guard and another from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Even more challenging was the walk outside her pier, she says.
"The hardest part about my role after September 11 was knowing that what I was doing wasn't nearly as difficult as what was going on in the next pier, Pier 94, the family center," Clott says. Referred to in the New York Times by one user as the "end of the line," Pier 94 initially served as an emergency morgue where bodies and parts were sorted and tagged. It eventually became the place where family members filed missing person reports, posted flyers, and delivered DNA samples. It held 20 grieving rooms.
There was also a tour of Ground Zero less than a week after the attack. Clott was a member of an advance team that visited the site prior to the first press pool gaining access. A year later, she still finds it difficult to accurately describe what she saw. She uses words like "incomprehensible" and "war zone" - words that never quite get at the blackness of the visit.
Finally, she sums it up: "There weren't any living beings except the rescue workers. It was pure devastation."
To its credit, the city that never sleeps also never gives up, according to Clott. "New York has shown its strength," she says. "During that time, when I was doing what I had to do to help, I was proud to be a New Yorker. Proud to be an appointee of Mayor Giuliani. Proud to be part of the healing process."

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