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Book: American Dunkirk

This is an example of 'whole community' at its extreme.

by Eric Holdeman / July 26, 2016

Previously I've blogged on the YouTube video, BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience, which documented the waterside evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11. Now there is a book that looks at this event and the social implications of people's actions that day.

See the new book, American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11 by disaster experts James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf. Together they examine the efforts through fieldwork and interviews with many of the participants to understand the evacuation and its larger implications for the entire practice of disaster management. The authors are the co-directors of the Disaster Research Center in Delaware.

Not having read the book — just yet — I think that the events of 9/11 and the boatlift is a terrific example of the "whole community" coming together to solve a problem. On that day, it was moving people off of Manhattan. Tomorrow we could have another example of individuals and groups coming together to address an issue. Remember that 9/11 happened before social media. 

The clarion call came from a lower-ranking Coast Guard officer who had an idea and put his career on the line by putting out the call for all boats, any size, any type to come aid in the evacuation.

Remember this for the future:

  • Be willing to take a chance; don't always ask for permission
  • Act when you know doing so is the right thing to do
  • People are waiting to help; just tell them what needs to be done
  • At times like this, the walls come down to help build community — all disasters do this
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