I went to the office around 5:30 AM PDT on September 11, 2001 because we had an Administration for Native Americans Social & Economic Development (ANA SEDS) deadline later than week. Fifteen years ago, the Internet was still relatively new and, while I always checked my email when I got to the office, I didn’t automatically open a browser (back then probably Explorer) to check the news.
I was listening to music (remember CDs?) on my Bose headphones as I polished the final proposal draft. The ringers were off on the land lines (remember those?), since it was so early. Around 6:30 AM, my brother called on my cell phone (probably a Motorola StarTac flip phone—remember those?), hysterically asking if I’d seen the news. By the time I went to CNN.com and turned on the office TV, both towers were in flames and no more work got done that day. Like everyone else, we were transfixed by the unfolding horror.
In 2001, all grant proposals were hard copy submissions, including the ANA SEDS proposal that had to be in Washington, DC on Friday of that week. Our office was then located in the Seattle area, and our FedEx cutoff was 5:00 PM for East Coast deliveries, so for a Friday deadline, we had to finalize our “master copy” by about noon to give us enough time to 1) run the five or six required hard copies, 2) substitute “wet signatures” in one copy to make the “original” copy, 3) run a client copy, 4) box up the FedEx package, and 5) dash to the FedEx office by 4:59 PM. Sometimes—usually due to a late arriving original of a wet-signed signature page—we’d miss the FedEx deadline, so we’d have to use Alaska Airlines “Gold Streak” small package delivery service. As long as we got the boxed proposal to the Alaska Air freight terminal at SeaTac by around 10:00 PM, the package would be put on a red eye to DC and delivered by courier the next morning, usually beating FedEx.
That option ended on 9/11.
While we sent the SEDS in by FedEx on Thursday, it wasn’t received by ANA for about six weeks. The weeks and months following 9/11 were beyond chaotic. All airline traffic was halted for days, and services like Gold Streak soon required “known shippers,” which proved to be too complex to comply with. All postal packages were held for X-ray and federal offices no longer would accept direct deliveries from FedEx, Express Mail and couriers—packages were held at central locations until they could be inspected. For the next couple of years, this meant finishing proposals well in advance of deadlines, which were usually extended, often multiple times, because of the confusion and uncertainty.
I assume that the rapidly changing shipping environment spurred the Feds into accelerating digital uploads, including our old pal Grants.gov, which is the portal for most federal grant submissions. Today, almost all federal, state and local proposals, as are about 50% of foundation proposals.
There are some exceptions, most notably in Los Angeles County. We write many proposals to various LA County agencies and for them, it’s still September 10, 2001, as multi-copy hard copy submissions with a wet signature original in a hand-delivered big box are required. Maybe the LA County Chief Administrative Officer will read this post and bring them fully into this century.
There are many ways of remembering 9/11. I had no friends or family directly involved, but the memory stays with me. This post is my own way of recalling it and way it altered the world in ways great (and well known) and small (like changes to grant submission processes).