Nearly 20 Years After Oklahoma City Bombing, GSA Southwest Regional Administrator Reflects on Her Memories as a First Responder

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Nearly 20 years ago, on April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killing 168 people and injuring 680 others. The act was later deemed as the single worst act of homegrown terrorism on American soil. I will never forget the events of that day and the days and months that followed. These memories remain close to me because of the horrific act itself, because it happened to a building owned by my employer, GSA, and first and foremost, because I was there as a first responder.Sylvia1

In 1995, I worked at GSA’s Telecommunications Operations Branch Manager, Telecommunications Division. On the morning of April 19, 1995, I was on a conference call with my employees when one of them reported that someone had come into her office and said the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been bombed. This statement was beyond my comprehension at the time.  We had a television on a different floor so I left the call, alerted my supervisor and we watched the horrific, breaking news unfold.

As a designated Emergency Response Official, I transitioned to that role immediately. I headed home to pick up my personal belongings and within the hour, myself and several other GSA employees were on our way to Oklahoma City as part of the GSA Response Team. Arriving a few hours later, I served as the Senior Response Official in charge of Telecommunications Recovery Services for federal agencies impacted by the bombing. I directed and managed the recovery of network services with a multitude of communications service providers. I coordinated and worked with all levels of the federal government to include the National Security Office, White House Communications and Oklahoma state government offices on the restoration of critical network service operations.

From that day until June 1, 1995, when I returned home to my family, I worked under extreme conditions directing the installation of local network services and systems, and provided telecommunications support to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) response and recovery teams to include the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI.

Upon arriving in Oklahoma City, I never turned on the news or visited the site.  I knew that my role was critical to the overall recovery and avoiding the painful details of the event were my way of focusing on the task at hand without letting my emotions get in the way of my commitment to GSA, our tenant agencies and the American public.   I was informed that GSA had lost two of our employees; Steven D. Curry and Michael L. Loudenslager.  Additionally, some of the GSA employees who survived the bombing suffered severe injuries; not to mention the emotional scars that remain with them today.

One of the things that kept the response teams going was the overwhelming care, love and support from the Oklahoma City community. Food, shelter, hugs and endless “Thank You’s” were abundant and unforgettable. Many of the business owners were providing their goods and services at no cost just as a way of saying “Thanks for being here.”

The loss of our GSA colleagues and the innocent children at the agency’s daycare center was very difficult to process. The picture of the fire fighter holding the dying child still makes my heart ache. The events of that day remain with me.  As the Regional Administrator for GSA’s Southwest Region, I am deeply committed to the safety and protection for all our federal workers in federal facilities, the children in daycare centers housed in federal space, and the public who enter our federal buildings.

Please join me this Sunday, April 19, in a moment of silence at 9:02 a.m. to honor and remember the victims, survivors, rescuers, and those whose lives were changed forever at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995.

We will never forget.

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