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OPINION:
What Good is Technology Against Terror?

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Contributed by Stanislav Kelman
osOpinion.com
September 14, 2001


In a time of desperate need, the technology we rely upon on a daily basis proved virtually worthless.

In This Story:

False Sense of Security

Communications Breakdown

Worldwide Devastation

On Shaky Ground

 Related Stories

When it was built about three decades ago, the World Trade Center was considered a marvel of technology. It was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 200 miles per hour, raging fires, and even earthquakes. Each of the main towers was believed to be able to easily survive an impact from a Boeing 707, the largest commercial jet at the time.

The buildings' sound construction was actually tested during the terrorist attack in 1993. Amazingly, even large amounts of explosives planted in strategic locations at the foundation of one of the skyscrapers caused virtually no major structural damage.

As strange as it now sounds, mere days ago it seemed that nothing short of an atomic bomb could bring down this icon of American commerce. Yet, a small group of people armed with plastic knives and a brutal disregard for human life accomplished the unthinkable. And they did it by turning our own technology against us.

False Sense of Security

Terrorists executed what no conventional movie scriptwriter in Hollywood would consider even a distant possibility. Shockingly, the hijackers didn't need to take control of a nuclear weapon launch site; nor did they require any financial resources beyond the price of a plane ticket.

Only in the wake of a tragedy of such enormous proportions can we truly understand how vulnerable we really are, and how little we can do to prevent a disaster.

We have become so dependent on technology that we expect it to somehow miraculously help us when terror strikes. Unfortunately, in time of desperate need, most of the things that we rely upon on a daily basis proved to be virtually worthless.

Communications Breakdown

Ironically, the Internet, which was by now supposed to have become the most reliable source of instantaneous news updates, was the first to fail. Both CNN.com and ABCNews.com went down only minutes after the event and were not fully functional for at least an hour. Some smaller networks took even longer to recover.

In New York City itself, where most of the broadcasting used to come from a transmitter located atop one of the twin towers, only one non-cable TV channel was reported to be still available for viewing. On the other hand, the radio, which has served for almost a century, seemed once again to emerge as the primary source of up-to-date information.

Cell phone communications were rendered essentially useless, and were not fully operational even 48 hours later. The old-fashioned ground wire phone system was also suddenly brought to its knees. All my initial attempts to contact friends in the City resulted in a prerecorded message reporting a "tornado in the area."

Even police coordination was partially disrupted due to the fact that one of their communication hubs was located inside of the World Trade Center.

Worldwide Devastation

For the first time in the nation's history, all air travel was stopped "until further notice." All financial markets were shut down. Most government buildings and high-rises around the country were quickly evacuated. The president was taken to "an undisclosed location." For a moment, the whole country came to a halt.

But that was just the beginning. This disaster also made us realize how interdependent the world has become. Many stock market indexes in Europe and Asia plunged, with Korea's sinking more than 12 percent and Japan's Nikkei dropping below the level of the U.S. Dow for the first time in 17 years.

The most significant aspect of Tuesday's attack was that it was accomplished by a only few dozen isolated fanatics. This, unfortunately, makes me wonder if we are going to be forced to agree with the Unabomber, who once wrote that "no social arrangements, whether laws, institutions, customs or ethical codes, can provide permanent protection against technology."

On Shaky Ground

The foundations of our society have been shaken, and it will take a long time to evaluate the damage, both physical and psychological.

And perhaps we will never be able to look at ourselves and the technology that surrounds us in quite the same way.

Talkback Forum


Author's background:
Stanislav Kelman used to live in the City of New York up until just a few months ago and simply cannot imagine seeing Manhattan skyline without the twin towers. He maintains a list of his past technology-related editorials on TechOpinion.org and invites you to drop him a line at osOpinion@LetItBe.org.

Why should seasoned journalists have all the fun?
Have YOUR Tech/OS Opinion featured on OSO!

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