Salisbury student aids effort in N.Y.

University senior sought for his skills in satellite imagery, digital mapping

October 09, 2001|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY - As far as Salisbury University senior Tim Kane is concerned, he's one of the lucky ones.

Lucky he wasn't at the World Trade Center - where he'd worked all summer on the 23rd floor of Building 7 - when the nearby twin towers came crashing down Sept. 11. Lucky that all his colleagues there survived the terrorist attack that devastated New York City's financial district.

Luckier still, says Kane, is that his unusual blend of skills allowed him to do what so many Americans wanted to do - help.

The 21-year-old, who had just completed a three-month internship with the New York Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, was called back to Manhattan on Sept. 13 for a two-week stint in which he logged nearly 200 hours as a night manager in charge of rescue and recovery logistics, often overseeing 200 or more people.

Kane is a geography major who plays for the university's soccer squad, but it was his computer skills with satellite imagery and digital mapping that proved invaluable for a city in dire need.

"Obviously, being involved, being able to do something in the face of all that devastation, meant something to me," Kane says.

He plays down his contribution, though, adding: "The people working on that pile are the heroes."

When his telephoned offer to help was accepted, Kane first checked with his soccer coach and his teachers, then boarded an Amtrak train to New York. It was a choice his parents, both professors at Salisbury, supported.

"This is a parent's bias, but I think he did the right thing for the right reasons," said his father, Francis Kane, who teaches philosophy. "Tim said, `Every night I work here, somebody gets to go home to his wife and kids.'"

A bright star in Salisbury's geography and geo-science department - which includes specialties in oceanography, meteorology, and urban planning - the younger Kane's experience with satellite mapping and laser imagery was put to good use during his summer internship.

He spent weeks dividing New York into geographic grids, then creating computerized maps showing the location of each nursing home and critical-care facility - vital information for emergency workers and police during a summer of frequent power outages. .

The World Trade Center catastrophe called for different skills when Kane arrived at the midtown disaster-response headquarters that city officials had hastily established on a Hudson River pier. The makeshift post replaced the state-of-the-art emergency operations center in Building 7 of the center, which was damaged and rendered unusable by the towers' collapse.

"Just seeing the terrible destruction was maybe the hardest thing for me," Kane says. "The whole area was where I was every day. There's the place where I used to eat lunch, there's where I got coffee every morning."

Working 13- to 18-hour shifts, Kane used digital maps to sort out the complex logistical puzzle of getting supplies through the city to workers sifting through a 10-story pile of rubble.

"The supply chain was crucial," he says. "Everything was changing constantly, 24 hours a day. You're sending 18-wheelers to the site, and you've got to be sure you're not sending them down some narrow street. Then you've got to figure how to store all this material, how to get it where it's needed, how to keep up with inventory."

The job wasn't one for a desk jockey, says Kane, who visited the site at least once a night and prowled nearby streets talking to truck drivers and others about the best routes for supply vehicles.

Wearing the Navy blue "New York OEM" cap he now sports around the Salisbury campus, and carrying a hand-held radio, Kane noticed a change in usually crusty New Yorkers after the tragedy. Seeing the emergency operations insignia, people came up to thank him. One night, he got a free cab ride uptown - "unheard of in New York."

City officials, who were impressed with Kane's work during the summer, said they'd like nothing better than to get him back when he graduates in the spring.

"I know Tim, and we all have great respect for him," said Frank McCarton, a spokesman for the emergency management office. "He's a great kid, somebody we want back. His future is huge."

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