Book Review: Resurrecting the Street after 9/11

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Note: RESURRECTING THE STREET will be free for Amazon Kindle download between September 7th and September 11th.

Resurrecting the Street: Overcoming the Greatest Operational Crisis in History is an account of the impacts of the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks on the World Trade Center on the financial markets, with a focus on the trading and settlement of US Government Securities. The author, Jeff Ingber, used dozens of first person interviews with traders, brokers, dealers, regulators, and other financial professionals that witnessed the airplanes striking the buildings, ran for safety when they collapsed, helped injured co-workers and strangers, and then returned hours later to rebuild the trading and settlement systems.

Resurrecting the Street includes a very useful historical section on the rise and advancement of systems for trading US Government Securities. Although this section, and much of the book, will be most sensible to a finance professional I was able to gather just enough education to understand the basic processes of how transactions are made in the US Government Securities Market (at least I think I did).

Rebuilding the Street

Since the collapse of the World Trade Center and subsequent fires obliterated millions of square feet of office space while also damaging many other buildings and destroying critical communications infrastructure many financial firms were fully or partially displaced or incapacitated. The phone lines those businesses depended on were compromised and led firms to scramble to find usable office space and rebuild communication networks.

Much of the book is about the actions in the hours and days after 9/11 to re-open financial markets and settle the trades that had been initiated on the morning of September 11. Billions of dollars of transactions needed to be reconciled and that process continued for many months after 9/11.

Based on the book I have a better appreciation of the importance of quickly restoring the financial markets communication systems and resuming trading. I also have a greater empathy for the difficulty and pressure to get that work done. It seems that anyone that worked and or lived in Lower Manhattan on September 11 lost at least one friend, co-worker, or relative in the attacks.

Traumatic Stress is Always Personal and Relative

As a reader I was pretty conflicted about how much empathy I should have for “Wall Street Fat Cats.” The last few years have not been kind for the image of finance professionals. I have read several books about 9/11, like the Downwind Walk written by a USAR paramedic from FDNY and the We’re Not Leaving which is a collection of oral histories from first responders. I have a much greater personal and professional affection for Fire and EMS responders that deepens my connection with the words they share.

Resurrecting the Street lacked a central character and didn’t give me enough to get to know about or really care about any given individual. I only met the people in the book through their title and organization. I learned little about them that helped create a connection.

But, there is no doubt that the business people working in the WTC and surrounding buildings, had profoundly stressful experiences on the morning of 9/11. Perhaps they were even less prepared than the Fire and EMS responders because they lacked previous exposure to trauma, death, and dying.

I reminded myself as I read that traumatic stress is personal and relative. Any cohort of people, firefighters or bankers, had a shared experience on 9/11. The impact of that experience might have been fleeting, life changing, or something in between. Each person needs to live and make meaning of their own experience.

We all attach importance and meaning to our work. We all want to make a contribution. On September 12 there were lots of ways to contribute – giving blood, working a bucket brigade on the smoldering pile, caring for a neighbor, teaching the next cohort of EMTs, or working to restore infrastructure for financial trading systems. I think many of us continue to ask how we can best contribute to our shared success.

Contingency Planning – Lessons Applied

In Fire and EMS “Lessons Learned” and all hazard awareness was pervasive as anti-terrorism money and training flooded in from federal agencies. While Fire and EMS were busy planning and testing all-hazards plans the financial industry and regulators were doing the same. For me the most interesting portion of the book was the contingency planning efforts that occurred across the financial sector in the immediate aftermath. Millions and millions of dollars were spent on planning, testing, and building redundant capabilities. Instead of lessons learned, the financial sector was doing lessons applied.

In the last five years electronic and instantaneous transactions has made much of the contingency planning efforts moot. Trades are made and settled much different now than they were 11 years ago (although I am not sure I really understand the financial processes).

Note: I was sent a review copy of this book by the Cadence Group. The above links are Amazon Affiliate Codes