A Walters State alumnus recorded some of the most memorable images of the World Trade Center in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Long before television stations were allowed to send their own camera crews into the heart of the scene, Jason Pack, a Federal Emergency Management Agency public affairs officer, was shooting video, which aired around the world on major television networks. The video provided most of the world with the first post-collapse glimpse of the under-ground shopping mall beneath the fallen remains of the twin towers.
Pack, a Morristown native and current resident of Knoxville, has been working with FEMA for three years. For five-and-a-half weeks in September and October, he spent each day with the agency’s elite urban rescue team, collecting information to share with the media and preserving their efforts for history.
“As an emergency worker, I have seen a great deal, but never anything approaching this magnitude,” Pack said.
He describes the underground mall as a surreal scene.
“It was like everything was frozen in time. Newspapers on the stand were all from Sept. 11 and cups of coffee were still sitting where they had been a month earlier.”
Pack, whose regular job is working for ambulance services in East Tennessee, is a part of FEMA’s reserve program. Since discovering the job opportunity on the Internet a few years back, he has traveled to several disasters, beginning with Hurricane Floyd in 1998. The job is ideal for a person with Pack’s background. He previously worked as a reporter/photographer with WBIR Channel 10 in Knoxville. But his first television experience came a decade ago while he was a student at Walters State.
“I still use some of the skills I first learned from Freddie Greene in the television studio at Walters State,” Pack said.
Pack was also a student in the first-ever emergency medical technician class offered at WSCC.
After graduating with a general studies degree in 1991, Pack went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Carson-Newman College.
While New York City may appear to be a world away from his East Tennessee roots, Pack says on Sept. 11 it was not.
“It was strange to see people from East Tennessee already working at the scene when I arrived. I saw some Red Cross volunteers from Morristown and a sign from Knox-Bearden Middle School hanging on a nearby building.”
In addition to shooting video, Pack assisted many in the media as they turned to his agency for information. He also helped outfit dogs and robots with search cameras. Through it all, he witnessed first-hand the toll that the events took on the many who worked in the massive search effort.
“There was one crane operator who had lost a brother and a cousin in the collapse; still he was there everyday, operating a crane at the site, trying to help.”
Pack expected to return to New York for a second time last fall, but FEMA changed its plans. Still, his one lengthy stay at the site left him with a lifetime of memories.
“It is a solemn and hallowed area. It’s also one of the most quiet places I have ever been, even with 3,000 people nearby doing rescue work. Most people didn’t talk much. They just did their jobs.”