9/11

Mable Begier as phone operatorAfter my husband, Bob’s 2nd great grandma, Mary LuLu Taylor remarried, following the death of her first husband, James Leary, on March 26, 1888, she and her second husband had three children, bringing to four the total number of her children. Her life had taken her from Forsyth, Montana to Shelby, Missouri, where she met James Begier, who became her second husband. Later, they would move to several other times, but Montana always seemed to be in her blood and she would return there several times. Her daughter Mabel Claire Begier met and married her husband, Edward Anthony Brown in Rosebud, Montana. I’m not positive at what point Mabel became a telephone operator, but she did, and as it turns out, that’s where she was working during one of the floods that took place in Montana. That job, at that time in history, put her right in the middle of a serious situation, and in a position to help those in need of assistance.

When we think of any disaster…be it fire, earthquake, tornado, or flood, our first instinct these days is to dial 911 on our phones. That has become the go to number for all kinds of help in times of need. That wasn’t always the case though. Years ago, it was the operator you called for help. You simply dialed “0” to get in touch with someone who could connect you with any branch of emergency help there was…as well as to let everyone else in town know about the emergency…at least back then they could. Privacy laws would have prevented that these days. Of course, if it was a big emergency, letting everyone know would be her job.

Mable Begier as phone operator 2Mabel Begier was an operator during an emergency that would have qualified as one in which it was acceptable to let people know, but then my guess is that most people already knew that it was coming. Floods in towns where you live near a river are common in the Spring, especially after a particularly high snowfall year. People who live near rivers already know that Spring means that you have to watch the water levels, stay prepared to evacuate, and stay informed at all times. At that time in history, when a warning needed to be sent out, you called the operator to get the warning out. That was where Mabel came in, and she loved her job. I think the job that she had was very important, and she was a key part of the emergency efforts of that era.

Like most Americans, I spent part of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks watching old footage of the attacks. Several things struck me looking back on those 102 minutes in time. It’s easy to see things like mistakes made, when you have the advantage of hind site, but at the time, everyone was operating under the normal procedures for emergency situations for the pre-September 11, 2001 world. We, however, no longer live in the same world we woke up in, on that Tuesday morning 10 years ago.

We had been taught that in a hijack situation, you cooperate with the hijackers, and you would most likely be freed when they got where they wanted to go. Of course, it had been quite a number of years since an airplane had been hijacked in the United States…and we had become complacent…assuming that it would never happen again…but we were wrong.

We had been taught that in emergency situations, stay where you are and help will be sent to you. It was all we knew. In reality, for anyone below the impact floors, evacuating immediately would have been the best thing to do. There was almost an hour from strike to collapse of World Trade Center Two…even longer for World Trade Center One. No one ever considered that the building could collapse, so many people were told to stay put. Listening to the recordings, makes me think about how awful those dispatchers must feel, knowing that the people they told to stay put, died because they didn’t evacuate the building. I’m not blaming the dispatcher, they were taught to keep people calm and in place until help comes to them. I also realize that there were people who were injured or otherwise incapable of getting out, and help had to come to them, but the able bodied citizen needed to be told to get out and take anyone they could with them.

I was struck with a renewed sense of shock when the towers fell. It seemed to be in slow motion, and very surreal, almost as if it wasn’t so, but was just a bad dream, like the dreams people have sometimes about falling, and they they wake up. Even though I knew it happened, and have lived with that reality for 10 years, it still didn’t seem possible…or real.

The rules all changed on September 11, 2001. We now have to each assess the situation we find ourselves in, and take the proper action for that situation. There is no norm. The new kind of terrorist and the new kind of war are the new norm, and they are sneaky and devious. We must be ever alert. Our survival could depend on it.

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