As strong as my memories of a dozen years may be, nothing can compare to my experience witnessing firsthand the shattered, burning ruins of the Twin Towers. At the time, I worked at NASA Headquarters in the Administrator’s Office, and on October 10, 2001, I traveled with then-Administrator Dan Goldin and several other senior officials to meet with then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the leadership of the police, fire, and emergency services. We were there to offer whatever support we could to the city, but more importantly, we wanted to honor those lost and those whose heroism inspired us all by flying several thousand flags aboard the Space Shuttle on its upcoming November mission.

At the smoldering ruins of the Towers, a charred, burnt smell filled the air. For all of the noise of construction vehicles, cranes and emergency vehicles working on “the pile,” an eerie silence seemed to surround the site. Death – violent and unforgiving death – had taken residence here. It was for all intents and purposes an open crematory, and as much as your eyes were tearing from the smoke, they were tearing as you watched construction, fire, and police crews walking into the debris field carrying an empty litter to bring the remains of yet another victim out of the piles of debris.

Fast forward nearly a dozen years later. I am standing in almost the exact same spot with the noise of construction vehicles, cranes and emergency vehicles rushing around me. This time, however, the noise is quintessential New York City. Honking horns, the bustle of people going to work and lunch, police whistles directing traffic, some foreign language being spoken by food truck workers, etc.

The memory of 9/11 persists, but the wreckage is long gone, replaced by a solemn memorial and impressively, the One World Trade Center. The gaping hole in the ground and in the sky is filled by a gleaming tower of steel, glass and concrete, the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. It is a tower of resilience and a sky-scraping testament to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to our country, and to our boundless capabilities.

On this 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, building a resilient nation is as important as it has ever been. The World Trade Center site offers many lessons in that regard. I explore some of these lessons in a recent article for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Horizons Quarterly magazine. It is the story of people who know all about a comeback and how to do it. We will never forget the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but we will also not be limited or held back by them. America is a resilient nation. The One World Trade Center is proof of that.

One World Trade Center and the Resilient Skyline

When a city’s skyline changes, it’s usually a sign of growth or progress. Whether it be a new skyscraper or a soaring monument, the shape and contour of that structure can often redefine how people see a city. In the case of New York City, its skyline was once changed because of an act of terror. Today, it is being changed again because of an act of resilience.

Rising from the site of the original complex in Lower Manhattan stands One World Trade Center, a 1,776-foot gleaming structure of glass and steel that declares, “We’re back.”

It is the tallest building in New York City, the tallest in the Western Hemisphere, and the third tallest in the world. Similar towers (albeit shorter ones) are already under construction for the 16 acre site, but there is no doubt upon seeing the World Trade Center complex that it will once again be a center of commerce for businesses in the Big Apple and around the world.

Where just a dozen years ago there was nothing but smoldering ruins and a center of national mourning, One World Trade Center has risen and with it a purpose, attitude, and fortitude to build out of a tragic history while keeping eyes firmly locked on the future. No one looking at the rising, gleaming structures today who were alive on September 11, 2001, could begin to imagine what would come out of the shattered ruins of the fallen towers. For those who lived through that day, whether in New York City or watching from afar, it is impossible to forget the ruinous heartbreak of 9/11. Yet when you look at these new shining structures, that sense of loss is now being embraced by feelings of renewal and hope.

Read the full article.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More