Tragedy revealed human strengths

Although I was about 100 miles from New York at the time, the 11 September tragedy is imprinted indelibly on my mind. I was with...

Although I was about 100 miles from New York at the time, the 11 September tragedy is imprinted indelibly on my mind. I was with about 200 US chief information officers on a conference cruise when sessions were brutally interrupted by an announcement from the captain informing us of the terrible tragedy unfolding.

The ship suddenly became a frustrating place to be. Apart from the shock of it all, communications were down. The waiting for information was unbearable, especially for those who had family, friends, or colleagues involved or who, but for being onboard, would have been in one of the twin towers. We were all stuck onboard - powerless - with a strong need to be with family and friends. The situation brought out the very best of sharing human nature in those CIOs, and rekindled hope for a better future. Our thoughts and condolences go to everyone.

On a broader scale, those ghastly events exposed both the fragility and strength of the information and communications infrastructure of our society.

The vulnerability of communications was cruelly illustrated, whether physical transportation by air, or mass communication through mobile and terrestrial phones. But the Internet won through. It did what it was supposed to do when it was designed all those years ago at the height of the Cold War. E-mail communications kept going when overloaded circuits crashed the other media.

Perhaps a lasting legacy will be a new edge to the issue of security and disaster recovery. What has always seemed a distant threat, except for the brief run up to Y2K, has become a continual possibility. The landscape has changed for ever.

It is coincidental that the caring side of IT also came to the fore in the UK last week. The formal opening of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists' new City Hall provides a base at last for those in IT willing to leverage their resources into educational and charitable activities. It is a focus for the human strengths and qualities demonstrated so admirably by our US colleagues earlier this month.

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