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(9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Activates Its Crisis Center

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, 9/11 Timeline

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