Surviving 9/11

Even individuals who escaped from the burning towers needed years to recover.


Nearly 3000 individuals lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Thousands more evacuated the towers but did not emerge unscathed. Many suffered from survivor guilt: a sense that their own traumatic experiences were insignificant compared with the stories of those who had died.

The World Trade Center Evacuation (WTCE) Study research project was set up to “identify the individual, organizational, and structural (environmental) factors associated with” successful evacuation.1 Fredrick J. Matzner, MD, was a member of the research team. For the study, researchers listened to hundreds of survival narratives.

In this Mental Health Minute, Dr Matzner discusses a report on protecting researchers from the emotional harm that could result from hearing so many harrowing stories. He also discusses the general findings of the WTCE Study, and how some 9/11 survivors processed their experiences and overcame feelings of guilt.


1. Qureshi KA, Gershon RR, Smailes E, et al. Roadmap for the protection of disaster research participants: findings from the World Trade Center Evacuation StudyPrehosp Disaster Med. 2007;22(6):486-493.