VITAC Reflects on 9/11

by: VITAC

In the following interview, Joe Karlovits, our Founder and President at the time, reflects on the repercussions of 9/11 and provides insight about VITAC‘s  crucial role in providing coverage of the unfolding events. To read more from VITAC, please visit our 9/11 Reflection page or read our press release.

Joe Karlovits
Founder, Former President, Canonsburg, PA


Where were you when you heard the news about 9/11?
On the way to work.  Arrived at VITAC just as we started coverage.  At that time they didn’t know it was a jetliner. They were speculating that it was a private plane.
What was your initial response?
As the network coverage continued, it was determined that it was a jetliner that hit the first tower and then they obtained video of the 1st jetliner hitting tower 1.  As the coverage continued, the second plane hit tower 2.  Everybody was shocked, including the network anchors.  It was very upsetting to see New York’s trademark towers burning.  Then we heard about an airliner hitting the Pentagon.  We knew that America was being attacked.  The networks received confirmation of which airlines’ planes were involved and where they were flying out of.  Adrian Jonas, one of our captioners who was on the air, screamed and became distraught because her brother was flying on that airline out of Boston Logan.  She had to be relieved of her duties.  Thankfully he was not on that flight.
Are there any events from that day or the following months that stand out in your mind?
When the first tower collapsed, I felt sick.  I’ll never forget it.  My thoughts were about the thousands of people in the tower and the first responders who were trying to get them out.  You knew that thousands of Americans just lost their lives.  The networks were beginning to show pictures of people jumping from tower 2.  It was just frightening to think of what these Americans were going through and how helpless they must have felt.  Armand Nicholi, a VP at WordWave, was working at VITAC that week and staying at a local hotel.  He was so upset over these events, that he asked if he could stay at our house that evening.  He didn’t want to be alone because this tragedy affected him so deeply.
As the events unfolded, how did you direct VITAC throughout the uncertainty?
As the coverage progressed, we were informed that we were the only captioning company who had a direct feed into the various networks.  NCI and the Caption Center were supposed to pick up programming during the morning, but couldn’t get through to CBS and ABC.  Since VITAC was the only company that somehow stayed connected to all three networks, we were able to have NCI and the Caption Center dial through VITAC so they could pick up their contractual coverage of the days events.   All of the networks went to 24-hour coverage of this tragedy, and it was a challenge to get this accomplished, but we did.  The captioners actually felt it was a civic duty to provide access to this historical event.  What a great staff!
How did VITAC as company respond to 9/11?
As I mentioned above, through the brilliance of our engineering staff, we were able to keep a hot connection into New York so that all of the captioning companies could provide coverage of the 9/11 events.  Because almost all telephone communications into New York were shut down, I still, to this day, don’t understand why our com lines into New York held.  Thank God they did or the major networks would not have had captioned coverage.
What was VITAC’s role during 9/11 and the following months?
Around the clock coverage continued for 2 days, and then the networks started drawing down.  Not only was our staff exhausted, all of the network anchors were too.  I was proud of what we accomplished for our deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.  This was a historical tragedy, and VITAC was at the forefront of making it accessible to millions of people.