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Context of '(After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Control Center Experiences Communication Problems for Two Hours'

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Ed Soliday.Ed Soliday. [Source: Ed Soliday]Those at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, near Chicago, have serious problems communicating with others outside their building, particularly using e-mail, for a period of about two hours. This is according to Ed Soliday, United Airlines’ vice president of safety and security, who is involved with the airline’s response to the terrorist attacks after arriving at the SOC at around 9:35 a.m. Soliday will tell the 9/11 Commission that, on this day, United Airlines “lost e-mail capability and some of their phone and cell service.” This, he will say, is “because everyone was on the phone trying to ‘call their best friend’ to talk about what was happening,” presumably meaning that the national telecommunications infrastructure has become overloaded due to increased traffic. Soliday will add, “For a couple of hours, trying to communicate out of the [SOC] building was impossible.” [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file] Soliday apparently does not state the particular time period over which United Airlines experiences these communication problems. However, it appears they may begin around the time of the first attack, since, according to the 9/11 Commission, shortly before 9:00 a.m., a United dispatch manager is unable to reach top company officials because the airline’s pager system “was not working” (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Ed Soliday

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CNN is the first major network to show the footage of the crash site. It breaks into a commercial and anchor Carol Lin says, “This just in. You are looking at… obviously a very disturbing live shot there—that is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” CNN then switches to Sean Murtagh, the network’s vice president of finance, who says in a live telephone interview, “I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City. And it appears to have crashed into—I don’t know which tower it is—but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a 737… a large passenger commercial jet… It was teetering back and forth, wing-tip to wing-tip, and it looks like it has crashed into—probably, twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center—maybe the eightieth to eighty-fifth floor. There is smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 16-17] Many reports do not come until a few minutes later. For instance, ABC first breaks into regular programming with the story at 8:52 a.m. [ABC News, 9/14/2002] Incredibly, a NORAD timeline presented to the 9/11 Commission in 2003 claims that CNN doesn’t begin its coverage of the attacks until 8:57. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Carol Lin, Sean Murtagh, World Trade Center, CNN

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Roy.Bill Roy. [Source: Publicity photo]Apparently, managers at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago, are unaware of any unfolding emergency until they see CNN reporting the burning World Trade Center (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within minutes,” the air traffic control coordinator at United Airlines’ headquarters, located next to the SOC, calls an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to confirm that the plane that just hit the WTC was not one of United’s aircraft. The FAA official tells him the plane had been a hijacked American Airlines 757. Soon afterwards, the air traffic control coordinator briefs Bill Roy and Mike Barber—the director and the dispatch manager at United’s SOC—on this information from the FAA. Barber then tries notifying United’s top corporate officials about it. However, he is unable to because the airline’s pager system is not working. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Barber, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The United Airlines System Operations Control center.The United Airlines System Operations Control center. [Source: United Airlines]Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, learns that an American Airlines plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and goes to his airline’s operations center to help respond to the incident, but when he gets there he is told that one of his airline’s planes, Flight 175, is missing. Studdert is in a meeting at United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, with Jim Goodwin, the airline’s chairman and CEO; Rono Dutta, the airline’s president; and three or four other individuals. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file] The meeting, in Goodwin’s office, is about union negotiations. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Meanwhile, personnel in the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) center have seen the television coverage of the burning North Tower and been informed that the WTC was hit by an American Airlines plane (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bill Roy, the SOC director, called the adjacent headquarters building and passed on the news to Studdert’s secretary, Maryann Irving.
Managers Are Baffled at the News of the Crash - Irving now runs to Goodwin’s office and, once there, tells Studdert: “Andy, call the SOC. An American plane just went into the World Trade Center.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file] The men in the office, Studdert will later recall, say to each other: “That’s nuts. That can’t happen. There’s no way, under any circumstances, that an airline pilot is gonna hit the World Trade Center.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Studdert thinks the plane that hit the WTC “couldn’t have been American Airlines, because that wasn’t an ordinary flight route.” [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file] The men in Goodwin’s office switch on a TV and see the coverage of the WTC on fire.
Manager Learns that a United Airlines Flight Is Missing - Studdert immediately goes to respond to the incident. Although the plane that reportedly hit the WTC doesn’t belong to United Airlines, according to Studdert, “there’s a fraternity… of the airlines, so we would help each other during a crisis.” He heads across the complex to the SOC—the operations center. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] The operations center is a room about the size of a football field in which around 300 people are working, tracking planes and pulling up information relating to the airline’s flights. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77] When Studdert arrives there, he says aloud, “Confirm American into the World Trade Center.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] However, someone in the operations center informs him that contact has now been lost with a United Airlines plane, Flight 175. A few minutes later, Studdert is told that a supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco called and said Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]
Manager Tells Employees, 'This Is Not a Drill' - Studdert is concerned that personnel in the operations center might think the apparent crisis is a scenario in a training exercise. [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] This is because 12 days ago he held a surprise exercise in which contact was lost with a United Airlines plane flying over the Pacific Ocean and airline personnel were led to believe the aircraft had crashed (see August 30, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Studdert, 5/26/2015 pdf file; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] It is possible that personnel in the operations center are indeed confused over whether the current crisis is simulated, as part of another exercise. According to the Chicago Tribune, Studdert senses “disbelief among his employees” and so he tells them, “This is not a drill.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] But according to USA Today, “the staff already knows” this is not another exercise. [USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Airline Employees See Second Crash on TV - At 9:03 a.m., Studdert and his colleagues see Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Studdert, however, is unsure whether this second plane to hit the WTC was a United Airlines flight, because the clarity of the image on television is too poor to tell. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file] Studdert will be involved in activating his airline’s crisis center in response to the attacks (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Bill Roy, Jim Goodwin, Rono Dutta, United Airlines, Maryann Irving

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jim Goodwin.Jim Goodwin. [Source: Chicago Tribune]Rich Miles, the manager at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center just outside Chicago, receives a call from a supervisor at United’s maintenance office in San Francisco, informing him that Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] The maintenance office received a call minutes earlier from a flight attendant on United 175, who said their plane had been hijacked (see 8:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8] When the supervisor tells Miles about this, he initially responds, “No, the information we’re getting is that it was an American 757.” (The FAA has just informed United Airlines that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a hijacked American Airlines 757 (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) But the supervisor insists, “No, we got a call from a flight attendant on 175.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Miles notifies his boss Bill Roy, the SOC director, about this information. Roy then contacts United’s CEO Jim Goodwin and its chief operating officer Andy Studdert, who are in a meeting at the airline’s headquarters, located next to the SOC. Roy then begins the process of activating the crisis center at the United headquarters, which will take about 30 minutes to complete. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Jim Goodwin, Rich Miles, United Airlines, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines activates its crisis center, from where it will respond to the terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] Personnel at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, near Chicago, learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center when they saw the television coverage of the incident. Minutes later, they were informed that the WTC was hit by a hijacked American Airlines plane (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly before 9:00 a.m., a supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco, California, called the SOC—the operations center—and said a United Airlines plane, Flight 175, had been reported as hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22] United Airlines’ usual procedure when there is a crisis involving one of its aircraft is to isolate that aircraft and move the handling of it to the crisis center, so as not to disrupt operations in the rest of the system.
Crisis Center Is Activated in about 30 Minutes - The crisis center, which is located just off the operations center, is apparently activated sometime around 9:00 a.m. It takes about 30 minutes for staffers to assemble and fully activate it. When the center is activated, a representative from every division of the airline’s corporate structure has to report to it, and once they arrive they have predetermined duties they are required to carry out. Clipboards are therefore distributed to operations center staffers, which show a list of people who are needed in the crisis center that they have to call. A phone bridge is set up with the airline’s other crisis centers, which are activated around this time in San Francisco and Denver, Colorado. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] Patti Carson, United Airlines’ vice president of human resources, will later recall that after they see the live television coverage of Flight 175 crashing into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. on a screen in the operations center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), “Without exchanging a word, every crisis team member in the room walked the 10 or 15 steps to the airline’s crisis center and took their positions.” [HR (.com), 7/1/2005]
Opening the Center Is 'the Single Most Significant Thing You Do' - The crisis center is “a terraced, theater-like room that resembled NASA’s Mission Control,” according to journalist and author Jere Longman. On one wall is a large screen on which United Airlines’ flights are displayed. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77; USA Today, 8/13/2002] Other screens in the center show CNN and other TV news channels. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file] Opening the crisis center, according to Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, “is the single most significant thing you do [at an airline], because once that happens… everybody in an airline has a second job and that second job is to either run the airline… or act to support the crisis.” Once the center has been opened, “3,000 people are put on an immediate activation,” Studdert will say. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012]
Different People Later Claim to Have Activated the Center - It is unclear when exactly the crisis center is activated and who activates it. Bill Roy, the SOC director, will say he is responsible for activating the center and he does this shortly after he learned a plane had crashed into the WTC. This is presumably sometime around 8:50 a.m. or shortly after. Roy will say that by around 9:00 a.m., he and his colleagues are in the process of activating the center. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] But Rich Miles, the SOC manager, will indicate that he activates the center and he does this apparently at around 9:00 a.m. He will say that after they saw the television coverage of the burning WTC and then learned that the North Tower was hit by an American Airlines plane, staffers in the operations center discussed what to do and considered whether to open the crisis center. One member of staff went into the center, and started turning on computers and other equipment. Miles will recall that after the supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco called, shortly before 9:00 a.m., with the news that Flight 175 had been reported as hijacked, he begins activating the center. [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]
COO Is Authorized to Activate the Crisis Center - Other accounts will suggest that Studdert is responsible for activating the crisis center. Studdert will recall that sometime after 9:00 a.m., when he arrived at the operations center (see (8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he realizes that the airline is “in a crisis, and we immediately activate the crisis center.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Furthermore, Ed Soliday, United Airlines’ vice president of safety and security, will indicate that Studdert is one of only a few people with authority to activate the crisis center. He will say that although the airline’s usual protocol is to obtain a “vote of three” before opening the center, both Studdert and he are empowered to order it activated on their own say-so. Since Soliday will arrive at United Airlines’ headquarters at around 9:35 a.m., this would suggest that only Studdert could order that the crisis center be activated on his own at the current time. [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file]
Center Remains Operational for Three Weeks - The crisis center will remain in operation around the clock every day for the next three weeks. It will provide United Airlines personnel around the country with instant access to resource providers and key decision makers. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The center was previously activated just 12 days ago, when Studdert ran a surprise “no-notice” exercise in which United Airlines personnel were led to believe that one of their planes had crashed (see August 30, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015]

Entity Tags: Ed Soliday, Andrew P. Studdert, Patti Carson, Bill Roy, United Airlines, Rich Miles

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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