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EMC employee recounts terror attacks

An EMC employee gets caught in the center of the World Trade Center attacks and spends 36-hours treating the injured as well as protecting his company's data.

On an ordinary day Ron Breuche would be responsible for operations management in one of EMC Corp.'s data centers.

On an ordinary day Ron Breuche would handle everything from monitoring air conditioning units to installing hardware and software.

On an ordinary day Ron Breuche would not be standing at the top of Wall Street in lower Manhattan watching one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center burn.

Last Tuesday was not an ordinary day.

By the time he stepped off the commuter train that day, which he takes every morning from his home in Long Branch, N.J., the first tower was already on fire.

"I stopped and was watching the tower burn in disbelief," he said.

"Why am I standing here when the Trade Center could fall?" he asked himself. That's when Breuche made the decision to head for his building.

That's also when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower.

"It was raining debris and people were trampling other people to get out of there," said Breuche "It was chaos."

He ran back down Wall Street, hugging the buildings for what little shelter they provided from the glass and concrete that was whipping through the air.

Breuche joined EMC's Professional Services organization last April for "a change of pace." His background in Application Systems Programming led him to a position as Data Center Manager for an EMC facility leased by GoAmerica Inc., a Hackensack, N.J.-based wireless data and Internet Service Provider, and located in the basement of 55 Broad Street, a 30-story building less than one mile from the World Trade Center.

Eventually, he made it to his building, which through the efforts of Breuche and a few doctors that leased office space above him, became part triage center, part data center and part bomb shelter.

People began to stream in from the street and Breuche assisted in setting up a triage center in a conference room. Most were treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation.

He then turned his attention to the computer systems in the data center.

The building is equipped with a generator and a central air unit, both of which are located on the roof. Breuche said the power flickered on and off for a few seconds here and there, and, if it had gone out, the generator was not damaged. The air conditioning unit was not so lucky.

"A lot of [debris] from the towers ended up on the roof of our building," he said.

The central air conditioning unit became clogged with the scattered concrete and debris from the towers.

"We had to shut the AC down or risk losing the whole system," said Breuche. But without central cooling, the systems in the basement were in danger of overheating.

Breuche put the building's two portable air conditioning units to use, positioning them at different points in the data center to keep the temperature down. Then the exhaust on one of the portable units broke.

Breuche rigged a pair of regular house fans to compensate and proceeded punching out the ceiling tiles to let more heat escape. It worked.

At the beginning of all this he tried to contact his wife Sandy, but the e-mail systems and phone lines were intermittently cutting out or just clogged altogether.

He managed to raise his boss at EMC on the telephone and asked him to call his wife in New Jersey to let her know that Ron was safe. That message, he said, didn't arrive for five hours.

Sandy did manage to get an e-mail off to him later that day.

"Needless to say she was extremely concerned and was wondering why I wasn't getting the hell out of there," he said.

"I'm not sure why I even stayed. It never crossed my mind that I should leave," he said humbly. "I just thought I was doing my job."

After business hours everyone except Breuche left. He rode out the night repositioning air conditioners and emptying water pans at a rate of about once every two hours.

Sleep was impossible.

"I managed to find a cot in one of the offices but I couldn't sleep. I don't know if I was too nervous or too tired," he said. "We were afraid we might die."

GoAmerica launched its New York network operations center (NOC) in October of last year. The center provides wireless access to data, e-mail and the Internet to more than one million customers and operates as its main information access center with redundant operations at GoAmerica's Hackensack location.

"The GoAmerica Wireless Connectivity Center is a fundamental element in the service we provide our customers," said GoAmerica vice president of network operations, Jesse Odom in a press release.

GoAmerica issued a statement following the attacks expressing its sympathies to all those effected by the events of Tuesday as well as to inform its customers that its operations were unharmed.

The company stated that it continues to be fully operational and is in the process of assessing the impact these events have had on its customers and partners.

Thirty-six hours after Ron Brueche entered the data center at 55 Broad Street he emerged to find the city out of the building and made his way back home to New Jersey.

The data center is up and running.

Ron was back at work on Friday.

"When I did make it in on Friday, I walked back up Broadway and stood a block from the rubble. It was the worst thing I've ever seen," he said in an emotional voice. "It looked like the aftermath of a volcano."

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor


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