9/11: 20 Years Later
How three 911 operators helped save lives during the 9/11 attacks
BY DEAN MOSES
Monique Brown, Natalie Wilson,
and Rae Ann Singleton have a
combined tenure at the New
York City Police Department that amounts
to over 90 years of service. When they arrived
at work on that bright, sunny morning
on Sept. 11, 2001, they were already
veterans in the fi eld by a decade each.
They would need every moment of that
experience to help them stay strong and get
through the horrifi c events that followed.
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center would also leave them living with
anxiety over the next two decades.
Like many others who bore witness
to that day of infamy, the events of Sept.
11, 2001 remains as fresh in the operators’
minds as if they had occurred only
“We assumed a plane just crashed. We’re
used to handling emergencies, so we just
played it down. Everybody goes into the
mode of getting everything done, getting
the notifi cations out, getting everybody
help that needs to be helped. So, at that
time, that’s what we did, we jumped into
this mode to where it’s an emergency—everything
else goes out the window. We do
our job, we make sure everybody else is
okay,” Singleton explained.
With the full horror of the day not yet
apparent, the trio focused their efforts on
ensuring all services were correctly mobilized
and communication was established
throughout the chaos. Still, the police communications
technicians told amNewYork
Metro that the voices they heard on the
other end of the line were the fi rst indication
that the destruction was more than a
“You can tell something was really going
on by the voice of the unit. We did our best
to help them, I mean even police offi cers,
they didn’t know what was going on either.
We just all got into this mode of, you know,
help, help. But from the voice… you know
we can’t see them; we can only hear them.
So, when they were talking with us, from
their voices you knew something was really
wrong. And then when the second plane
hit, we became aware of what’s happening.
And then there were people trapped
in different places, cops were trapped in
different places, calling us relying on us to
help get them out of the buildings, things
of that nature,” Brown said, adding that
schools were being evacuated so responders
kept a list as to where they were being
With pandemonium ensuing, it was the
911 Operators Monique Brown and Rae Ann Singleton are still scarred by the
memory of Sept. 11, 2001.
duty of the 911 operators to not only serve
as the eyes and ears of fi rst responders in
the fi eld, but to also help keep them calm
during the greatest catastrophe they had
Even so, despite maintaining unwavering
professionalism throughout, panic and fear
was erupting behind the scenes.
“My sister at the time was a New York
City police offi cer. She was mobilized to
that location. And when the buildings came
down, she was one of the fi rst cops that
were injured. I called her and hadn’t heard
back so I went back. … So, when I fi gured
out that wow, a couple of hours have gone
by and I haven’t heard from her something
must be going wrong. So, I called the police
at the station, and they told me that they
lost track of her and four or fi ve of her
coworkers. So, I immediately started just
like going over the radio with her name,”
“I didn’t know anything; I broke down
crying. They removed me from my position,
some of the offi cers there, they just, started
making phone calls, to see if we can fi nd
her. We eventually found her. She was one
of the fi rst cops that were injured and that
were removed from the scene earlier in the
day, and she was in Woodhull Hospital, and
she was fi ne, but injured but fi ne. So that
was very traumatic because I still have
to dispatch. I still have to do all of those
things, not knowing. And then when I fi nd
out that my sister is okay, thank God. Now
PHOTO BY DEAN MOSES
I have to go back to work and fi nish up.
Maybe 20 minutes, 30 minutes of ‘Okay,
get yourself together. Go back to your seat
and fi nish up the day,’” Brown added.
Like Brown, Wilson had almost lost a
loved one. Driving a command bus, Wilson’s
husband was showered with falling
debris, cutting off all communication.
Thankfully, he survived the attacks — and
when the day was over, he was waiting for
“When I left the job that night, I was
able to go home, give my daughter, give my
husband a hug because now I feel complete
and safe, but it also hurt me because a lot
of people were lost and he said he knew
he lost a lot of his customers on the bus
because he never saw them again,” Wilson
What many did not see that day was
911 operators trying to remain calm for
all of those around them, but inside a
deep and unimaginable fear shrouded
them not just for the uncertainty of the
city but the whereabouts of their own
family members. Some worked over 15
hours trying to help be that bridge of
communication between fi rst responders
and the average citizen.
Even though two decades have passed
since that emotional day, every 9/11 anniversary
sends all three women into
extensive bouts of PTSD. However, they
rely on their family and on each other to
get through the diffi cult time.
911 operators were the lifeline of communication on Sept. 11, 2001.
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