I can’t stop thinking about an incredible story from the September 11 attacks, where nearly all employees of Morgan Stanley survived that tragic day. Out of 2,687 people, 2,674 lived—thanks to one man named Rick Rescorla.
As director of security for Morgan Stanley, Rescorla had a disturbing premonition years earlier. In 1993, a terrorist attack shook the World Trade Center when a car bomb exploded in the underground parking garage, killing 6 and injuring hundreds. After observing people's response during this incident, Rescorla concluded that rescue forces could not be relied upon in future attacks.
Rescorla informed all Morgan Stanley employees that going forward, they should only follow his instructions in an emergency situation. He then instituted a series of surprise evacuation drills, forcing employees to practice evacuating the building quickly and methodically. These unannounced drills were costly and unpopular, especially when Rescorla timed the evacuations and chastised people for being too slow.
On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 AM, a plane struck the North Tower. Although an announcement on the PA system directed those in the South Tower to remain at their desks, Rescorla immediately ordered Morgan Stanley employees to evacuate. After successfully leading most employees to safety, Rescorla went back inside for stragglers. During the evacuation, he called his wife, asked her to stop crying, and said he had to get his people to safety, telling her: "If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life." Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor before the South Tower collapsed, and his body was never recovered.
Imagine if 9/11 never happened. Rescorla would be remembered as an obsessive eccentric, not the prophet whose drills saved thousands.
Rescorla's story teaches an invaluable lesson - we all benefit from those rare visionaries whose extreme dedication and unorthodox methods end up saving lives when catastrophe strikes. Though labeled eccentric, Rescorla's tireless emergency preparedness and refusal to accept the status quo made him the ultimate hero on 9/11. He represents the kind of person we need in our lives, whose out-of-the-box thinking and readiness for the unthinkable can mean the difference between life and death when disaster inevitably comes.