Attendees at Networld Interop 2001 in Atlanta Tuesday expressed shock, sadness and anger over terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"This is as significant as Kennedy getting shot," said Leon Lane, owner of Strategic Alliances, a business development firm in Atlanta. Lane said he was attending a conference session when word of this morning's attacks spread through the room in whispers.
"People started leaving the room and it went from about 150 people to 20 people in about half an hour," Lane said.
Don Peterson, CEO of Avaya, said his company is doing "everything we can to make sure all of our employees are safe and accounted for, just as I imagine every big company in America is doing."
Peterson said he and the Avaya employees in Atlanta for the show will "wait to hear what the government wants us to do and cooperate like crazy."
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington "are bigger than Avaya and bigger than N I," he added.
Attendees gathered in groups around televisions scattered throughout the Georgia World Congress Center watching coverage of the day's events unfold on network news stations.
Some people gasped as footage of the collapse of one of New York's Twin Towers was replayed.
Ricardo Rodriguez, a sales engineer with Fort Lock, a lock manufacturing company in River Grove, Ill., said he and several co-workers plan to drive back to the Chicago area. Thousands of travelers in the Atlanta area are stranded by the closure of U.S. airports.
Rodriguez, who was en route via airplane from the Chicago area to Atlanta when the attacks took place, said he was shocked when he heard the news from concerned relatives who called his cell phone after he disembarked from the plane to make sure he was OK.
Attendees said it is too early to tell what impact the attacks might have on their businesses. "I predict it's not going to help the stock market any," said Clifford Martin, consultant with Martin Labs, Atlanta. Martin expressed condolences for the city of New York and other victims of the attacks.
After hearing about the attacks via a phone call from a friend as he was preparing to leave home for N I, Martin said he called relatives on Long Island and e-mailed his sister, who works for the government in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Everyone was OK, he said.
"When I found out how many planes got hijacked, it made me wonder what happened to all the terrific security we're supposed to have," said Martin.
Some attendees are confident that the U.S. government will punish those responsible for the attacks. "There's going to be hell to pay for these people" said Drew Wahlberg, consultant with Varberry Associates, Atlanta.
Additional Reporting by Larry Hooper