Honorable Mention: Mike Burton, When the Worst of Humanity Called, An Engineer with the Best of Humanity Answered by Taylor Flynn
Site Cleanup Manager
World Trade Center
The thing I remember the most about September 11th was when Mr. Guidal rode into the school yard after school on a pizza delivery bike and John, Dan, Corey, Terrence, and Cassidy just kept hugging him. He was alive.
On September 11th Mike Burton, who worked for the city's Department of Design and Construction, figured he'd round up netting and sidewalk bridging to protect pedestrians from falling debris. Instead of being in charge of netting, the mechanical engineer from Manhattan College, was directly in charge of a work force of 3,000 workers and oversaw the coordination of more than 100,000 from over 100 different trades and agencies. The many volunteers with equipment who wanted to help so badly also created a huge logistical nightmare because they never left the site - afraid they'd not get back in. His aid said that at one point it felt like every contractor in America had his cell phone number. Mike Burton said that every day there were more than 100 critical decisions that he had to make. However every day he could only get to the most critical 20 and every night he was glad when he had not been responsible for the loss of another life - except for 20 minutes one day when he heard a CNN news flash. CNN reported that 1 Liberty Plaza had collapsed with 150 workers inside. Only the day before he had assured Mayor Giuliani that the building was safe. Mike said that it was the lowest point of the entire cleanup effort for him. Luckily CNN was mistaken, and Mike Burton got back to work.
The entire cleanup effort was supposed to take 1½ years and $1.4 billion to complete. With Mike Burton in charge it took only 10 months and $800 million. Maybe one day we will have computer programs that will be able to make the perfect decision while 100 people are screaming in your ear. On September 11th we only had the accident and emergency management genius of Mike Burton.
Many of us living in New York at the time thought that the scars from September 11th would never heal and our world would never be the same again. Our world isn't the same. However, all the debris is gone, you can drive on the streets, the subways are running, and the stores are open. It almost seems like the way it used to be - almost. There are moms and dads and sons and daughters missing. However, we can be proud that as we cried, we also stood up to the worst the world had to offer. Rather, Mike Burton stood up for all of us. We just feel good about it.
I went to visit him in his office to interview him for this essay. He didn't always want to be an engineer. He just liked math and science, like me. There were pictures of his son, Kyle, some starfish and sharks that he had taken scuba diving in Australia, and Ground Zero - a memory of the 10 months, once upon a time, when he coordinated the 'saving of the world.'