Citi Turns 200: Courage in a crisis
October 26, 2012 09:00 AM
In celebration of Citigroup's 200th Anniversary, we are sharing stories from our rich history here on this blog. The 31st installation below covers how Citi employees came together during the tragic events on September 11th, 2001. Read the 30th installment explaining how the bank enhanced its foreign operations for international customers, here.
Courage in a crisis
When the World Trade Center is attacked in 2001, employees show courage and determination in helping others and maintaining operations with little interruption
In Manhattan, on the morning of September 11, 2001, the sky was a crystal blue. Robert Weiss was manager of the Citi branch at the World Trade Center. He was in a meeting with his area boss at the 120 Broadway branch, not far away, when, at 8:46 a.m., an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Weiss's immediate reaction was to head back to the disaster site to check on the welfare of his branch employees. The sky above was full of flying paper, and he had to fight his way against a panic-stricken crowd heading in the opposite direction.
Finally, Weiss reached the branch, where the staff had been following the bank's emergency shutdown procedure, locking away cash and valuables. With assistant manager Evelyn Rivera, Weiss evacuated the people, checking behind doors and under desks to make sure that no one was left behind. Citi had other premises at 5 World Trade Center, which Weiss could see through the branch window. Before he could make his way across the plaza, at just before 9:03 a.m., a second plane struck, this time hitting the South Tower. "It was like an earthquake," Weiss recalled. There was no chance of crossing the open space as plane wreckage and other debris rained down. Getting no response to his attempts to make phone contact, he assumed the employees at no. 5 had all left, and he made his way back to 120 Broadway.
Just as Weiss got inside the building at 120 Broadway, just after 9:59 a.m., the South Tower began to collapse, throwing out a dust cloud and blast wave that blew in the windows of the branch. Initially, the employees took refuge from the dust behind closed doors, but then decided to make their way down to the subway station beneath the building. Visibility was terrible - everyone was choking on the dust, and the station was packed. Weiss returned to the branch and found an escape route through the back of the building. He went down below once again, screamed out the names of his team, rounded them up, and led them out of the station and on foot to safety in the direction of the South Street Seaport area. Invited to shelter temporarily in a restaurant, at 10:28 a.m., the group gazed in shock at a television screen as the North Tower came down.
Six Citi employees lost their lives in the disaster. All of them were visiting the twin towers on business. When the South Tower was hit, the emergency shutdown process began at all Citi's branches in the vicinity. Over 16,000 Citi employees were evacuated from their places of work in lower Manhattan. They included over 2,000 working in the asset-management business, whose office building, 7 World Trade Center, collapsed later in the day at just after 5:20 p.m.
However, with only minor interruptions, the computer network, including ATMs, continued to function throughout the emergency. Within an hour or so of the collapse of the North Tower, most of the bank's telecommunications systems were back up and running. By September 21, all the bank's operations, other than those actually on the disaster site, were functioning fully.