At this point, I often hear people say that 7/7 was London’s version of New York’s 9/11. Well, yes and no. Yes, it was a crisis for the country, but no, the situation was very different. What separated the two incidents was visibility. When New Yorkers saw two aircraft plunge into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, I’m pretty sure most of them had a fair idea something was very wrong. And when you add the entire global viewing public, well, you get the idea.
In London, the confusion lasted a full hour and 17 minutes until COBRA was opened, as the then Prime Minister was stuck at a G8 meeting in Scotland. That may not sound like much but, in crisis terms, it’s a lifetime.
Subsequently, it was a defining day for a number of reasons but I think of it as the moment ‘citizen journalism’ was born. According to Vicky Taylor, editor at BBC Interactivity, the BBC received more than 20,000 emails, 3,000 SMS messages and 300 images with both video and stills.
And according to Vodafone UK, they saw a 250 percent increase in the number of calls and a doubling of the number of text messages with the amount of calls rising from 30,000 every 15 minutes to 300,000 over the same period.
What should that mean to us? Well, our response time will be severely impacted, depending on how visible the incident is, and how quickly the general public manage to get their mobile phones to their ears to talk to people about it, or take pictures, which are immediately emailed to the news agencies.
Or, maybe they will follow the lead of Janis Krums. He broke the news about the US Airways ditching in the Hudson River. Where did he break the news? ABC? CNN? No, Twitter, the social networking site. His tweet read: “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on a ferry going to pick up people. Crazy.”
The regular media also reported the incident, although without Krum’s eloquence.
“The US Air Airbus was carrying 150 passengers and five crew members from La Guardia Airport, NY, to Charlotte, NC,” said the New York Times. “With two disabled engines, the pilots and crew had about as much time to decide and execute a plan of survival as it takes to microwave breakfast.
“Yet, from among few options the water landing was targeted and executed with superb results.
“That Captain Chelsey Sullenberger III and his co-pilot demonstrated that elusive quality—extreme competence combined with integrity of duty—fills spectators and survivors with respect and awe.”
Slow-time thinking to quick-time doing. As Krums would put it, “crazy”.