Agency webmasters aid in recovery

Agency webmasters aid in recovery

Web sites keep federal employees and the public informed, tell them how to help the victims

E-government wasn’t a major focus as the government got back to work after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but federal agencies did use the Web for a variety of purposes.

Federal sites posted information for their workers, for victims, for donors looking to contribute assistance and for the general public as the nation sought to pull through the disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency considered its Web coverage of the event a crucial part of its disaster-relief responsibilities.

FEMA spokesman Marc Wolfson said that, when nonessential federal employees were sent home following the attack on the Pentagon, the agency made several decisions. “We decided that, in this case, [FEMA’s Web staff was] essential,” Wolfson said. “It’s our job to help let Americans know that, yes, this attack has occurred and to reassure them that their government is on the job.”

FEMA billed its Web site, at, as “a virtual electronic encyclopedia of disaster information.” On the site, FEMA posted the latest news on rescue efforts in New York and at the Pentagon, and provided links to sites that accept financial donations to aid attack victims.

Quick updates

FEMA was among the first dot-gov sites to post information about the terrorist attack. At 10:30 a.m. Sept. 11, the site confirmed the news of the attacks and announced that FEMA would play a vital role in the rescue efforts.

Wolfson said the FEMA Web site is becoming a primary source of disaster news.

On Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks, the FEMA site logged an all-time high of 3.4 million hits.

“There are a lot of people who know that whenever there’s a disaster—whether it’s a hurricane or a fire or something like this—the FEMA Web site will tell them what they need to know,” he said.

With press access to the rescue sites restricted, FEMA Web staff also took high-resolution photographs of rescue efforts and posted them on the Web for the media. Defense Department photographers also were hard at work recording the aftermath of the Pentagon attack and posting photos on

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was one of the federal agencies hardest hit by the attacks, but it maintained focus on its mission. EEOC posted a call from its chairwoman, Cari M. Dominguez, for tolerance in the workplace in the wake of the attacks, noting that some Muslim and Arab-American workers had been targeted for harassment.

Offices lost

EEOC’s offices in Building No. 7 of the World Trade Center complex were destroyed.

“Thankfully, all of our people were evacuated and uninjured,” said commission spokesman Reginald Welch. “But many of them saw the entire event unfold, so they’re pretty traumatized.”

Welch said that, though data was backed up on a server in EEOC’s Washington headquarters, the office’s hardware—and everything else—was lost in the building collapse.

“Our data is in pretty good shape,” Welch said. “We haven’t really lost any of it. But documents related to litigation or cases we were working on, that all disappeared.” He said the commission would likely rely on the courts and prosecuting attorneys to help them piece the cases back together.

While the commission searches for workspace, Welch said its priority was to help employees cope with grief and trauma.

“First on our list is emotional recovery,” he said.

Other agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, used their Web sites to inform employees of policies for returning to work or to provide information on obtaining counseling. HHS also posted contact information for New Yorkers who use Medicaid or Medicare.

In addition to offering updates of U.S. diplomatic activities following the attacks, the State Department also posted a “worldwide caution” to Americans who were considering travel abroad.

Three of the four senators from New York and Virginia devoted their Web sites completely to disaster relief.

Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called his site, at, an “online crisis center.” He and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) both posted information for victims and their families, links to New York City government services, information on businesses that were located in the World Trade Center, transportation updates and details on where to volunteer or make donations.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) used his site to keep Virginians informed on the latest news from the Pentagon, as well as details from his newly opened Northern Virginia emergency field office. Allen’s site also includes a “Heroes” section, which displays stories of bravery in the Pentagon rescue effort.

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.


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