Interviews with 9/11 Responders Available in Columbia University's Oral History Collection

Unnatural history of public health: From epidemics and injuries to chronic illness and bioterrorism

Researchers at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University conducted more than 40 in-depth interviews with public health and emergency workers who were at the scene in the days and months following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The goals were to:

  • Ensure that a set of oral histories of key workers and officials would be available for future generations of policymakers and historians.
  • Document the effects of the September 11th attacks on the nation's public health infrastructure.

Key Results

  • A research team conducted interviews with 43 public health and emergency workers. The interviews, most lasting one and one-half to two hours, were transcribed and will be deposited in Columbia University's Oral History Collection, allowing access by future scholars.

  • Drawing on these interviews, and other research, co-project director David Rosner, PhD, and Gerald Markowitz, PhD, authored the book Are We Ready? Public Health Since 9/11 (University of California Press, 2006). The book examines the reaction to September 11th among public health practitioners at the federal, state and local levels.

Key Conclusions

  • Rosner and Markowitz outline a number of key conclusions in Are We Ready Yet? Public Health Since 9/11, including:

    • New York's extensive public health and social welfare infrastructure played a critical role in the relatively smooth response to the immediate crisis in the days and weeks following the September 11th attack.
    • Much of the success in organizing a response had less to do with the formal organization of emergency planning or conscious preparation than with the existence of an on-going infrastructure of services, laboratories and personnel.
    • Researchers and policy makers need to expand their understanding of the limitations of the individualized mental health system and integrate that system more broadly into the public health infrastructure.
    • The failure to acknowledge uncertainty in communications is nearly always a big mistake.
    • When national threats are present, clear lines of federal and other authority need to be delineated.
  • The book was published by the University of California Press in its Series: California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public.