Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Red Cross Dress Code Post-9-11

By Chi Kong Lui, who has been with the American Red Cross Greater New York Region since November 2000.

Red Cross vehicle parked near Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.
(Photo: Luis Avila)
Whenever I come to work dressed in a suit and tie for special events, I get many strange looks and comments like “You look so nice!” I always laugh a little because even though I know my colleagues don’t mean it as an insult, it indirectly implies that I don’t normally look so nice.

I also laugh because there was a time when I use to come to the office every day in a dress shirt and tie, but that all changed after September 11, 2001.

On that Tuesday, I came to work as the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York at our old location on 66th and Amsterdam Avenue (right behind Lincoln Center) like any other day. But things quickly shifted as word trickled through the office of the terrorist attacks.

Some my colleagues and I had gathered in the Public Relations department and we watched in stunned silence as the two towers of the World Trade Center fell on live television.

That stunned silence would prove to be the calm before the storm as hundreds and thousands of New Yorkers flooded our plaza and lobby, all wanting to volunteer to help any way they could. Those people were willing to do almost anything, so desperate were they to make sense of the madness had befallen the city.

The nyredcross.org web site I managed was inundated with traffic that brought the speed of the site to a crawl, and the webmaster inbox was soon flooded with hundreds—and eventually thousands—of emails from people looking for information on loved ones or information on how they could help.

The rest of the day proved to be a blur. With the help of our web host and several volunteers, we were able to manage the massive flow of traffic and emails that would follow in the weeks to come.

That night, after receiving some heartfelt hugs from my colleagues, I left the office to see my then girlfriend (who would later become my wife) in Brooklyn.

As I rode the subway to her, I pondered how the world would be different in a “post-9-11” world. I got that answer more quickly than I’d expected as the subway pulled in the 34th Street (Penn) station, police officers began to scream at the top of their lungs to evacuate the station.

The immediate thought of dying in a train station made my heart pound.

Dozens of other passengers and I frantically poured out of the subway and into the streets of the city and ran south for blocks as police officers continued to wave us through.

Eventually I stopped running, my pulse returned to normal and I walked on through to the 14th Street Union Square station and jumped on another train to Brooklyn. I never found out why we were evacuated from the subway that night.

The following day, after spending the night at my girlfriend’s place, I must have went back to work in the same clothes as the night before. I’m sure no one in the office even cared or noticed as we all continued to respond to the disaster—providing support to first responders, emergency radio communications to city agencies and eventually, assistance to the families who lost loved ones.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to dress differently after September 11. It simply became clear to me how important the work we do at the Red Cross is, and worrying about what I wore to work took a backseat to making sure I wore my Red Cross ID badge around my neck each morning.

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