Technology Amid Terrorist Attacks: The Internet And Digital Imagery

On Sept. 11, people all around the world watched in horror and disbelief as passenger aircraft were flown into buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C. Live TV allowed people all around the world to watch this tragedy (in real time) as it unfolded.

As the tragedy was occurring, it was reported through the Associated Press that amateur radio operator Robert Sanford in Sausalito, CA, was awakened at about 6 A.M. Pacific Daylight Times (PDT) by a friend telling him that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. An East Coast friend then started sending fire and police radio transmissions via the Internet. Sanford listened, then began recording and capturing more than two hours of wrenching exchanges. In one such recording a person said, “I’m beneath the north pedestrian bridge, I don’t have much air. Please send somebody.” Normally, FDNY radio traffic can be monitored on the website www.thebravest.com, but it was not long before the online access would be overloaded.

Satellite imagery reveals what could not be seen from the ground. Satellite photos from various sources give a much different view of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A one-meter-resolution satellite image of pre-attack Manhattan was collected on June 30, 2000, by Space Imaging’s Ikonos satellite. The image, taken from the south, prominently features the World Trade Center’s 110-story twin towers. Ikonos travels 423 miles above the Earth’s surface at a speed of 17,500 mph. A post-attack photo was taken at 11:43 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on Sept. 12, 2001, and shows an area of white and gray dust and smoke at the location where the 1,350-foot towers of the World Trade Center once stood. These WTC photos, and pre- and post-attack images of the Pentagon may be viewed at http://www.spaceimaging.com/newsroom/attack_gallery.htm.

Other photos from space give more views of the tragedy. Photos taken from the International Space Station and NASA’s Terra Satellite using the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) show variations of the plume over New York City (www.nasa.gov/newsinfo/WTCplume.html).

The Associated Press also produced a Flash imaging program of Ground Zero, it labels surrounding buildings to give you a better understanding of the devastation. This can be viewed by visiting (wire.ap.org/APpackages/wtc_satellite/index.html). A similar image is provided by TimesDispatch.com and can be viewed at http://www.timesdispatch.com/ frontpage/MGB73WD2MRC.html.

A panoramic view of Ground Zero was made available early on by the Associated Press. This panoramic view provides the viewer with an interactive method of looking around the area of devastation. To access this interactive panoramic model, visit http://wire.ap.org/APpackages/terrorpanos/tradepano.html.

Many websites listed in this column and major news services (including Firehouse.com) experienced some of the highest online activity ever reported. Keynote Performance, which measures Internet traffic, said ABCNews.com, CNN.com and The New York Times on the Web were inaccessible between 6 and 7 A.M. PDT on the day of the attacks as people attempted to view the sites.

Government sites also experienced slow performance, according to Keynote. On Sept. 13, CIA.gov averaged as high as 53.87 seconds from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. PDT. Keynote said the CIA site performance rate is normally around 1.5 seconds.

www.FAA.gov, the Federal Aviation Administration’s site, hit its peak on Thursday at 9 A.M. PDT with a performance rate of 42.12 seconds, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s site, FEMA.gov, had a maximum average time of 24.78 seconds from 11 A.M. PDT to 1 P.M. PDT on Thursday.

While news, government and airline sites were flooded with traffic, Internet users turned to search engines to find relevant information on the crisis.

Popular search terms at Google for the week ending on Thursday were similar. They included “Nostradamus,” “CNN,” “World Trade Center,” “Osama bin Laden,” “Pentagon,” “FBI,” “American Red Cross,” “American Airlines,” “Afghanistan” and “American flag.”

Other technology such as cellular telephones, DNA testing, robotic search, 3-D modeling, video teleconferencing, on-line seismographic monitoring and other Internet programs/resources proved useful during and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.


Charles Werner, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 24-year veteran and deputy chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. He is a member of the Firehouse.com webteam and recently became the editor of the new Firehouse.com Technology Zone. Werner serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Technology/Communications Task Force and is chair of the State Fire Chiefs Association of Virginia (SFCAV) Technology Committee. He is the webmaster for the SFCAV, the National Fire Academy Alumni Association, the National Fire Service Incident Management System Consortium and the International Association of Wildland Fire.

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