Amid the Smoke, Repacking Wall Street's Data Pipe
In the haze of Sept. 11, 7 World Trade Center seemed little more than a footnote.
On a day when thousands of innocent mothers, fathers, sons and daughters had already died in the Twin Towers, there were no casualities when this 47-story neighbor finally succumbed to fire several hours later. But it was this less-noticed event that almost took down the New York Stock Exchange.
And though it was Big Board Chairman Richard Grasso who became the hero of Wall Street's recovery effort, none of it would have been possible if not for the efforts of 51-year-old Carl Russo, Verizon's (VZ) head of Lower Manhattan operations.
Unnoticed at the time, Russo and his Verizon team became the linchpin of perhaps the highest-stakes rebuilding effort immediately following the atrocities -- the preparation for reopening the world's largest stock exchange. When it rang as scheduled the following Monday, the NYSE's opening bell sounded a note of America's fierce resolve to fight back from its darkest day.But when 7 WTC collapsed on the evening of Sept. 11, the prospect of success in the $1.4 billion repair project couldn't have seemed more remote. The calamity knocked out a telephone network hub that handled as much communications traffic as a city the size of Cincinnati. In doing so it short-circuited a vital swath of the city's telecommunications network, leaving much of Wall Street in virtual silence. And for all the talk of bulls and bears, it is the telecom network that makes up the very core of the country's financial markets' machinery. The task of repairing the telecommunications meltdown would fall to Russo. Even as emergency workers began their frantic search for survivors, he was rallying his troops to tackle what looked like a nearly impossible task. "The common feeling was, you aren't going to keep us down," said Russo. "Most everyone was angry. But it felt good -- we knew the job that had to be done and we knew what we were up against."
IdledIn some ways Russo was the ideal man for the task, to listen to co-workers who know him well. Colleagues describe him as a "solid" leader who favors khakis and sports shirts to business suits, and an excellent technician. He's a phone business veteran who, in contrast with the much-derided "Bell heads" who are said to populate middle management, is as fluent in the language of computer equipment as he is with phone gear. There was no underestimating the size of the challenge. Although four other Verizon switching stations also served downtown businesses and residences, West Street handled about 20% of Wall Street's communications traffic. About 300,000 phone lines and 4.5 million data lines ran through the West Street hub. More importantly, the crippled building also held the critical servers -- a collection of computers that make up the brains of the network for Wall Street and the NYSE -- which had been idled since the attack. After 48 hours of setting up communications for government emergency service command centers and hospitals, Russo received a new set of orders: Restore all phone and data service to the NYSE. "It was pretty clear to everyone that getting the stock exchange going would get the country moving, then that would have ripple effects to other countries that trade with us," said Russo, recently looking back at the implications of his assignment.
Serve and VolleyEven more important than the Canadian shipment were the network servers still inside the West Street equipment office. As fate would have it, the 12 network servers were housed on the 23rd floor of darkened 140 West St. And being one of the network's most vital elements, recovering the servers was the critical to getting the NYSE back on its feet. Russo had a group of Verizon managers don breathing apparatuses and flashlights to go fetch the dozen pizza-box-shaped servers and bring them to the new network operations center, a 20-foot-by-30-foot room near Russo's Pearl Street office, on the other side of Lower Manhattan. "Obviously, we knew everyone was watching, which added to the pressure," said Verizon COO Larry Babbio. "There was no certainty that we would be able to get the stock market up and running by Monday." Russo and his immediate eight-person crew were working 20-hour days and sleeping in their offices as they patched together the makeshift network management center and checked off the tasks on their priority list. Looking back on it, Russo says he's still amazed that they were able to accomplish as much as they did. "It's not like this was an outage or a fire or a flood, this was an act of war we were trying to recover from," says Russo. "If we can beat this we can beat anything, is how we felt." The managers and technicians were still securing circuits and retesting their systems at 6:30 Monday morning. Verizon estimates the post-attack repair bill is around $1.4 billion. The company had a $1 billion insurance policy and expects government and assorted relief funds to kick in a good part of the difference. Russo recalls the anxiety leading up to the market's opening at 9:30 a.m., having no clue what would happen once the traffic went "live." "Once we could see the nodes light up, it was like the weight of the world was off our backs," Russo said. Despite the heated trading, the network performed without any significant hitches. The NYSE recorded 2.6 billion transactions, at that time a one-day volume record. It was less of a banner day for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, whose 684-point drop marked the largest single-day selloff at the time. That was all fine with Russo, a father of four, who was just happy to go home for the first time in a week.
Select the service that is right for you!COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.
- $2.5+ million portfolio
- Large-cap and dividend focus
- Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
- Weekly roundups
Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.
- Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
- Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
- A custom stock screener
- Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.
- Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
- Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
- Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.
- Real Money + Doug Kass + 15 more Wall Street Pros
- Intraday commentary & news
- Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.
- 100+ monthly options trading ideas
- Actionable options commentary & news
- Real-time trading community
- Options TV