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Robert M. Bailliet, PE (retired), ISA Fellow, 2001 Society President

2001: Taking action after the twin towers fell

The most significant and memorable event of my presidential year occurred during the annual ISA Conference and Exhibit (C&E) in Houston. On Tuesday morning, the second day of the event, I was attending a breakfast meeting of the Measurement, Control and Automation Association when the master of ceremonies (MC) announced that an airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

I, and most of the attendees, assumed that it was a small plane that had somehow malfunctioned and accidently crashed into the building, so the meeting continued. A few minutes later, the MC announced that a second plane had crashed into the other twin tower. At that point, we all knew that something significant was happening.

The meeting was immediately adjourned, and I returned to my hotel room to find my wife, Betty, watching horrific scenes of the burning buildings and a replay of the second plane crashing into the building. I contacted executive director Jim Pearson, and we called a meeting of key ISA leaders and staff to discuss our course of action for the C&E. By the time we met, all air traffic had been shut down, so participants were stranded in Houston. We therefore decided to continue with the “show.”

By Wednesday morning, it was apparent that everyone had their minds on the events unfolding, so we decided to close the event at noon Wednesday—one day early. Everyone wanted to do something to help the victims, so we contacted the Houston blood bank and conducted a very successful blood drive at the convention center.

Those participants in the C&E who had flown into Houston initially were unable to fly back home. ISA staff chartered a Greyhound bus to transport the staff and a few volunteers back to Research Triangle Park. International visitors were forced to remain in Houston until airlines resumed flights, but some Canadians rented cars and drove all the way back to Canada. Many visitors from all over the U.S. did likewise. I was fortunate to have driven my vehicle to Houston from New Orleans, so I could return home on Thursday.

Two months later, the city council of Houston recognized our civic action to help the victims by issuing a proclamation declaring ISA Day in Houston.

Robert M. Bailliet, PE (retired), ISA Fellow, 2001 Society President

This article is part of September/October 2020 InTech—the ISA 75th Anniversary Special Edition