Ward’s baptism in Boston

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Life in a bunker had always been the stuff of movies for reporter Bob Ward of Boston’s Fox owned-and-operated station WFXT-TV, but that is exactly how he spent 11 hours on that fateful Tuesday morning last week.
Mr. Ward covered local government actions at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, a bunker designed in the early ’60s as a shelter to be used in the event of a nuclear attack. The state governor and top safety officials from around the state gathered there to monitor the situation in New York while determining if Boston was indeed to be a target of the attacks.
“I normally work from 3 to 11 p.m. and was playing with my 4-year-old daughter at home when news came through about the tragedy,” he said. “I managed to be at work by 10 and was on the air at 11, staying throughout until 12:30 in the morning, only to go back to work at 5:30 a.m. the next day.”
Day 1 of the tragedy was spent underground at the bunker, which Mr. Ward describes as a “big war room” complete with a huge TV screen and where state officers huddle around a horseshoe table and each agency has its own phone line to the outside world. After years of being used as a shelter for snowstorms and hurricanes, the day marked the first time the space had been used for a war room.
At midnight, events died down and Gov. Jane Swift opted to return to the statehouse, choosing to avoid the bunker mentality.
WFXT remained in the heart of the tragedy’s aftermath. The station managed to send three crews to New York City, including one that hitched a ride with a top recovery team in the area. During the crisis, the station had a team at Logan Airport, where the flights of both planes that hit the World Trade Center originated, and was on hand during the raid on a local hotel the next day.
“When we learned that the planes came from Boston, there was a feeling of disappointment in the newsroom because we know that Logan Airport security was fairly tight,” Mr. Ward said. “It was hard to understand how terrorists got on board.”
Mr. Ward was on his way to interview an expert in Rhode Island when news broke of an Amtrak train nearby that was halted for a search by the FBI, which eventually detained suspects associated with the attack.
“It was surreal to have my day start in a bunker and end surrounded by police with machine guns out,” he said. “Those first two days were all about information overload. It was nearly impossible for anyone in the media to keep up. I’ve never gone from one end of emotions to the other so quickly in that span of time.”
But Mr. Ward feels that for a young news operation, the WFXT crew proved its mettle.
“We’ve really only been around as a news organization since ’96, when there was only one newscast on the air,” he said. “After this, we proved we all know our jobs, and the station proved they could do it, going from one broadcast to hitting the air 24 hours a day. Everybody has shown tremendous restraint in order to avoid maligning anybody. But this is what the responsible media is all about.”