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H.O. Penn Meets The Challenges of 9/11


NEW YORK—Four months after the attacks that devasted lower Manhattan, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Cleveland had a newfound appreciation for his company and the employees who work with him at H.O. Penn Machinery Co., Inc. In our lifetimes, there are defining moments that reveal true character—be it of a person or an organization. Mr. Cleveland soon recognizes that Sept. 11 was such a moment for all employed at H.O. Penn.

It’s a rare moment that a company is called upon to play a leading role in response to a national crisis, particularly one of such epic proportions as Sept. 11. Mr. Cleveland now realizes that it was more than chance that positioned his company into the many important roles it played during that time of infamy. It was fate.

“The earliest calls we received after the attacks were from the NYPD for generators and light towers,” he said. On the first night, the company set up 50 light towers and 12 small generators. In the coming days, more than 70 megawatts of temporary electric power—enough to power 35,000 homes—was supplied for emergency service. H.O. Penn also had more than 250 megawatts of permanently installed power in Lower Manhattan.

H.O. Penn President Tom Cleveland, left, and colleague survey damage at Ground Zero.

Through H.O. Penn, CaterpillarPower generator stations would provide the vast majority of standby power to New York City’s financial, insurance and banking districts. Caterpillar also provided Con Edison with temporary power and technical assistance to stabilize the power grid in that portion of Manhattan.

Some 40 CAT Power generators stations were eventually dispatched, aiding in the re-opening of the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ markets the following Monday, Sept. 17—less than a week after the attacks. Many other buildings would draw their only source of power from CAT diesel generators that were stationed on streets throughout Lower Manhattan.

“What made the need for power more urgent was that one of the buildings demolished in the attacks (World Trade Seven) was home of the Con Edison substation that was used to provide power to most of Lower Manhattan,” he explained. “We had worked with Con Edison for several years prior to Y2K, analyzing its power systems, its needs and troubleshooting potential problems. All that homework had been done. It would have been much worse if Sept. 11 had occurred prior to Y2K,” he theorized. “In that regard, we were lucky.”

The attacks on Sept. 11 demanded, in his words, “a total response company-wide—one that tested all our resources and systems. He recounted the battle-like state of siege his organization experienced at the time. Immediately following the attacks, an arsenal of equipment was dispatched to Ground Zero, where 75% of the machines would carry the CAT logo, he said. Meanwhile, company technicians worked around the clock installing and operating generators, supporting both engines and machines.

Another way he measured his employees’ total commitment to the mission at hand was in one company directive that was often ignored. “The only orders that were frequently disobeyed were the orders to go home and get some rest,” he said. “Penn employees worked continuously for days on end, many would stay at the site, sleeping in either their vans, their cars, or hotels in the area.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in CONSTRUCTION NEWS, January 2002.

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