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Profile: Linda Schuessler
Positions that Linda Schuessler has held:
- Manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center
Linda Schuessler was a participant or observer in the following events:
Managers at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, learn of the apparent hijacking of Flight 11, but continue with a meeting they are in for several minutes, until being notified that one of the plane’s flight attendants may have been stabbed. The daily staff meeting among all the department heads at the Command Center begins at 8:30 a.m. Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as national operations manager there, has just been informed of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). He begins the meeting by announcing news of the hijacking to the other managers, but then continues with his normal briefing, about the outlook for the coming day’s operations. Sliney is interrupted, apparently at around 8:40 a.m., when a supervisor enters the conference room and whispers to him that the situation with the hijacking has deteriorated: American Airlines has just called, reporting that a flight attendant on the plane may have been stabbed. Deciding he should be on the center’s operations floor rather than in the meeting, Sliney announces to the other managers: “Look, this hijack situation has seriously escalated and I need to get back to the floor. There is an unconfirmed report indicating that a flight attendant may have been stabbed.” He then excuses himself. The meeting is quickly broken up before the first World Trade Center crash occurs at 8:46 a.m. The managers then head to their posts. Despite the “intuitive nature of this group of people,” none of them will initially consider the first WTC crash to be connected to the hijacking they have been informed of. According to Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, “something that seemed so bizarre as flying a hijacked plane full of people into a skyscraper didn’t seem possible.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001; Freni, 2003, pp. 63; Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-21]
The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, establishes a teleconference with FAA facilities in the New York area. These facilities are the New York Center, the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, and the Eastern Regional Office. The participants in the teleconference jointly decide to divert all air traffic that would otherwise enter the New York area, either to land or to overfly. Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later describe, “They [New York area air traffic control personnel] would continue to work what they’d been working, but we wouldn’t give them any more.” The teleconference participants’ decision does not affect takeoffs from the New York area. After the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m., the Command Center will expand this teleconference to include FAA headquarters and other agencies (see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Linda Schuessler. [Source: Robert A. Reeder / Washington Post]After staff members at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, see the second attack on the World Trade Center live on CNN, Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations there, makes the decision to secure the center in order to protect the building and its occupants. The Command Center’s doors are locked and all non-FAA personnel are ordered to leave the premises immediately. [Freni, 2003, pp. 64; Spencer, 2008, pp. 80-81] Schuessler will later say her reason for doing this is “because we didn’t know exactly what the situation was and what was going on.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] At some point early on, she also assigns a member of staff to each manager at the Command Center, to be a note-taker and keep a record of every decision and order given by that manager. She realizes that documentation of all actions will be crucial for later recreating the day’s events. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65]
FAA Managers Gather Information - Schuessler will recall that, following the second attack, those in the Command Center start receiving information from FAA field facilities, “about unusual things that were going on.” National operations manager Ben Sliney, three first-level supervisors, and Schuessler are involved in gathering together information from around the country that the specialists at the Command Center are receiving. Schuessler will recall, “Every few minutes, we would gather in the middle of the operational floor and share the information and discuss what some of our options might be, what we needed to be doing.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001; Freni, 2003, pp. 64]
Schuessler Standing in for Absent Manager - Linda Schuessler has come to the Command Center after working at FAA headquarters, and lacks operation-level experience there. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 81] She is in charge of the Command Center this morning only because Jack Kies, the FAA’s manager of tactical operations, who would normally be in charge, is away for a meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Freni, 2003, pp. 65-66; Federal Aviation Administration, 5/18/2006] According to author Lynn Spencer, Schuessler therefore focuses on staying out of Ben Sliney’s way, and taking care of administrative tasks. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 81]
The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, puts the word out that he wants all air traffic control facilities around the US to inform him of anything unusual that occurs with the flights they are handling. In response, news of suspicious activity quickly starts coming in to the Command Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126]
Command Center Calls Field Facilities - Sliney wants air traffic control facilities to notify him of anything out of the ordinary, such as a radar target disappearing from the radar scope, loss of communication with an aircraft, or an aircraft making an unauthorized change of course. He also wants to know immediately of any glitches that occur, even if these are common, everyday problems, such as a flight deviating from its course, missing a frequency change, overlooking a radio call, or getting a transponder code wrong. The center’s controllers at each regional desk therefore start calling their field facilities, and ask them to report any unusual occurrences. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 125] The Command Center has telecommunications lines to all the major air traffic control facilities in the US, which enables it to reach out to those facilities and establish the big picture about aircraft activity. [Freni, 2003, pp. 64]
'More and More' Responses Received - Following the call for information, numerous reports of suspicious activity are received from the air traffic control facilities. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126] Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later recall, “[W]e started getting more and more calls about bomb threats, about aircraft that we had lost communication or radar identification with.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Center Lists Suspect Aircraft - Sliney wants a list compiled of the reportedly suspicious aircraft. A dry-erase board is set up in the middle of the room. On it a manager keeps track of the reports that are coming in, writing down where each suspect aircraft was last seen, who was working it, where the flight originated, and where it is going. Another person contacts the field facilities to follow up on the reports. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 126]
Two Dozen Suspicious Flights - Author Pamela Freni will later describe, “[F]or the next several hours the call signs and status” of every suspicious aircraft will be recorded. Command Center personnel call “airline operations centers, trying to determine any crises on each flight. Only when each plane landed or was found safe did its identification information disappear from the board. Upward to two dozen were listed at one time, but ultimately the number was whittled to 11 highly suspicious cases” (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). “Nine of those airplanes would land safely. Two of them—AA 77 and UA 93—would not.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 64-65]
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
[Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. [Time, 9/14/2001] Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.”
[US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001] Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.”
[US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, 9/20/2001] According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.”
[9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.”
[USA Today, 8/12/2002] When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.”
[USA Today, 8/13/2002] Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’”
[Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002]
Additional measures are taken to increase the level of security at the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65] After the second attack on the World Trade Center, the Command Center’s doors were locked, and all non-FAA personnel were ordered to leave the premises immediately (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Freni, 2003, pp. 64; Spencer, 2008, pp. 81] Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations, is still concerned about the security of the center, and calls the building owner to request additional protection. Soon, armed guards are stationed at all entrances and roaming the floor there. The exact time when this happens is unstated. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65] It is unclear whether the increase in security is a general precaution, or is in response to specific threats against the Command Center.
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