This is the story of a teacher who believed that teaching and practicing what you teach is the most important thing you can do. And he gave his life for it.
Rick Rescorla was born a British citizen in 1939, and was a member of the British Army. He eventually came to the United States and enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in Viet Nam, where he received several decorations for valor. In the early 80’s he joined Dean Witter Reynolds, which eventually became Morgan Stanley in 1997, as the Vice President for Security.
The company was located in the World Trade Center and as early as 1992, he warned the New York Port Authority (WTC owner) that it was vulnerable to terrorist attack. His warning was unheeded and the following year, terrorists attacked on the WTC with a truck bomb. Rescorla was there, however, and he helped lead the building occupants to safety.
Rescorla reasoned that the threat was still very real, so he tried to convince management to move from the WTC. Astonishingly, he even speculated that the towers would be terrorist targets for a plane crash. Unfortunately, the lease with the WTC was not due to expire for several more years and costly to change, so they refused to move. Since they were staying, Rescorla insisted that he be allowed to practice a building evacuation every 3 months so that every employee would be well versed on how to safely get out of the building. And he did. He practiced every 3 months, all 2700 employees, down from the 47th floor to the ground level. Everyone. No exceptions.
September 11, 2001. A plane hit Tower 1 and WTC management told everyone to Shelter In Place in Tower 2 to avoid falling debris from Tower 1. Rescorla immediately saw the danger in staying so he ordered an evacuation of all Morgan Stanley employees. He grabbed his bullhorn and sang patriotic songs to employees to calm them as they walked down the stairs.
In the end, all 2700 Morgan Stanley employees survived, along with the 1000 or so others who came with them. The last time anyone saw Rick Rescorla was when he and 5 other employees went back into Tower 2 to try to rescue more people.
This is why we practice emergency drills. It is why we disrupt your class, your test, and your meeting. We need to learn emergency procedures, and know them so well, we could do them without even thinking. We all need to learn what Rick gave his life for – to learn how to do what is needed during times of crisis, to know where and how to evacuate, or drop, cover and hold on, or shelter in place.
Learn more about Rick Rescorla's incredible life in the book "Heart of a Soldier" A Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th" by James B. Stewart.
An opera of the same name just opened this fall at the San Francisco Opera. Read all about it at the Opera's Website.
This piece was originally published by me on August 11, 2011, as Great ShakeOut Message No. 1 at California State University, Fullerton.