Silicon Insights: Silicon Valley Reacts

The folks in Silicon Valley were just waking up when word of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were being reported on local TV and radio stations. Like the rest of the world, we were stunned and heartbroken and felt helpless.

Very few firms in Silicon Valley have offices on Wall Street or near the Pentagon so local connections are limited. However, thousands of Silicon Valley executives fly the routes from Boston, Washington Dulles and Newark N.J., to the West Coast often and most of the public high-tech companies have friends and associates on Wall Street.

In times like this, we all look for the personal links to those directly affected and as an industry we have lost key executives in past airline crashes.

The most notable was Don Estridge, the IBM executive who fathered the original IBM PC, died in the Delta crash in Dallas in 1985. As of now, it appears our industry lost two key executives.

Daniel L. Lewin, the co-founder and CTO of Akamai Technologies, was on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles — one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Akamai is a content distribution company dedicated to speeding up Net traffic and is based in Boston's high-tech region.

Also on that flight was CFO of MRV Communications, Edmund Glazer. MRV Communications is a network infrastructure company based in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles.

Frantic Search for Information

I happened to be at a semiconductor conference in the L.A. area when I heard the news and was heading to the airport to fly back to San Jose. Of course, with all flights canceled, many of us from Silicon Valley put together about 10 car pools and spent most of Tuesday driving back to San Jose glued to news radio stations the entire time.

Since this is the first major disaster of this type in the Internet and information age, technology played a very important role in relating the news and speeding up the role of communications. Radio and TV became the main communication vehicle but the Internet added a third critical link to real-time news and information.

However, during the first hours following the attack, demand for news over the Net became so high that the access to information was reduced to a crawl. Interestingly, e-mail links worked flawlessly and many people around the world used e-mail to check on the safety of loved ones.

Also, cell phones appear to have provided vital clues as to what happened on the doomed planes as several people onboard dialed loved ones or emergency personnel to report the hijacking as it was happening. There have also been reports of people buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers using their cell phones to call for help.

Silicon Valley Remembers Uneasy Time

Although Tuesday's attack took place on the other side of the country, Silicon Valley and the surrounding areas are keenly aware of their vulnerability to similar types of attacks.

In our area specifically, San Francisco acted swiftly to evacuate its tallest buildings deemed potential targets for a similar attack. San Jose — the heart of Silicon Valley — has no skyscrapers but some buildings taller than 15 stories were evacuated as a precautionary measure until all flights were grounded.

During the Cold War, we were told that Silicon Valley was one of the main targets of some of the eastern European countries should we ever go to war with them and that caused all of the big firms in Silicon Valley to add major security forces.

Actually, these forces were really put in place to combat any potential for industrial espionage but they were beefed up when it looked like the area could become a target in the Cold War as well.

When news of Tuesday's attacks filtered through, all of the security forces in the big Silicon Valley companies — such as Intel, National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard and others — went on high alert and began securing their facilities and protecting their workers.

Of course, even though these workers were on the job, they too were somewhat paralyzed by the news and stayed glued to TVs, radios and the Internet. Some companies closed early and told workers to go home to be with their families and help them work through the emotional crisis.

Companies Pitch In

I talked with executives of various high-tech firms and they stated that they were very concerned about the emotional impact this event will have on their workers and their families and were looking into bringing in special counselors to help employees through this difficult period.

As in the past, when a major crisis develops, such as the earthquakes in South America and Taiwan, Silicon Valley companies moved quickly to help with relief efforts in New York and Washington D.C.

Most of the major high-tech firms have asked their employees to give blood if possible.

San Jose-based Cisco Systems has donated $4 million to a special fund in New York to help the survivors of the city's police and firefighters lost in the attack.

Web sites including and Yahoo! are assisting people in making donations to the American Red Cross. Both have links that allow visitors to make direct payments to the Red Cross. Amazon's Web site counter said 20,356 payments had been made, totaling $533,444.51 by Wednesday afternoon.

Aladdin Systems will donate $1 of every sale conducted on its Web Site (Alladin Systems) over the next 30 days to aid victims of terrorist attack.

And Ricoh of Silicon Valley has offered to provide desktop eCabinets and flatbed scanners to entry points (e.g. morgues and hospitals) for the purpose of scanning in victim identification information (e.g. wallet contents, briefcase contents,etc.).

Rack-mount units would be supplied to command centers for the purpose of replication from the desktops to the centrally located rack-mounts.

Searches can then be performed to find victim information for various law enforcement applications. Ricoh will provide this equipment at their expense as well as provide personnel to assist in setting up the application. Dennis Stein of Ricoh Silicon Valley is coordinating these efforts out of his office at 408-346-4522.

These are just a few of the ways Silicon Valley is responding to the needs in New York and Washington D.C., and I am sure there will be many more offers of support from the Valley as high-tech companies unite to participate in the rescue and relief efforts on the East Coast.

Editor's Note: Next week's column returns to the regular Thursday schedule, and to the next part in a multi-part series on the state of personal digital assistants.

Tim Bajarin is a consultant and leading computer industry analyst and futurist, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. He's based in Campbell, Calif.