Reprinted with permission from PA Environment Digest
We will all remember where we were and what we were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, but Betsy Mallison, Community Relations Coordinator from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office in Pittsburgh, will remember it more vividly than most.
Betsy was heading to Harrisburg on the Turnpike when news of the attacks in New York broke and word came that there might still be planes left in the air ready to hit other targets.
Calling reporter friends in Pittsburgh newsrooms, Betsy found out that a plane had crashed in Somerset County, just as she was coming up on the Somerset Exit.
Somehow she found the crash site and relayed details of the site and its condition via cell phone into the Emergency Operations Center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and to DEP.
She stayed on site to help local responders, federal and state agencies, and DEP’s own Emergency Response Team set up and deal with the crash site and the hundreds of reporters that descended there.
The site became a small city literally overnight.
She continued on duty for the next few days and weeks as the families of the victims of Flight 93 came to visit the site.
Betsy and Freda Tarbell from DEP’s Northwest Office also took time to help the Red Cross and Salvation Army make red, white, blue and yellow ribbons for emergency workers on site to show their patriotism and respect for what the passengers and crew did to overcome the terrorists.
Flight 93 crashed on a reclaimed surface coal mine, so DEP staff knew the geology of the area well and helped guide the FBI and federal agencies investigating the site. Investigators literally sifted the crash site down to a depth of 45 feet, but nothing much remained of the plane that was larger than a person’s fist.
Even though most of the fuel was consumed in the initial crash and ball of flame, some remained and posed a potential threat to investigators working at the site. DEP staff, along with local fire company personnel, helped organize decontamination procedures to keep investigators safe.
It was tough duty working in and around the crash site knowing what happened to the people on that flight, but everyone did their job.
Two DEP staffers walking back through the site happened to pick up a piece of paper lying on the ground. It didn’t seem too special because there were small pieces of paper all over the site. Then they realized it contained the last few words one of the passengers wrote to their loved ones.
In all, 74 agencies totaling 1,100 people responded to the crash scene in the weeks following Sept. 11.
The days that followed Sept. 11 were equally difficult. Chasing down reports of contaminated water supplies and anthrax contamination, security threats at Pennsylvania’s nuclear reactors and dams and dozens of other incidents all had to be investigated and any concerns eliminated.
Betsy is just one of thousands of public servants in Pennsylvania, the United States and around the world doing her job that day and the days that followed in the face of unspeakable evil.
Little did Betsy and other DEP staff know that just 10 months later they would be back in Somerset County to deal with another event that captured the world’s attention—the Quecreek Mine Rescue.
15th Anniversary Addendum From Betsy Mallison
Fifteen years ago today, I stood on a Somerset County abandoned mine site, thinking about how close terrorism had come into my little corner of the world. It was the stuff of Tom Clancy novels, but its full effects were played out in front of me at the crash site.
The trees were still on fire, when I arrived, and the plane's outline could be seen in the dirt. But yet, there was nothing to be done for the souls onboard Flight 93.
I stood with firefighters and EMTs who were ready to help, but could not.
My husband, Don Bialosky, DEP's Southwest Emergency Response Manager, and I spent 15 days there, working in a mini-city, with some of nation's best emergency response and environmental professionals who came together, as a team, to figure out what happened there and to preserve the site for generations to come.
Hundreds of media representatives, from all over the world, arrived to tell the Shanksville story.
We set up a media center in a tent near a cornfield and brought in food, facilities and phone banks. We found key folks for the media to talk to, bus tours and public interest stories to help them tell the world about what was happening in Shanksville.
People came to the site to leave memorials. I remember someone made a wooden angel to represent each soul lost. People brought food for the responders.
I remember U.S. Flag cookies that particularly touched Gov. Schweiker's heart.
9/11 brought out a goodness in people united that I feel we've lost a bit of today.