Lower Manhattan was filled with thousands of bewildered and terrified people the morning of September 11. Many immediately realized the enormity of the World Trade Center attacks and knew they had to leave the area at once. Kenneth Concepcion of the U.S. Coast Guard made sure that 70,000 of those frightened souls made their way to safety amidst the mayhem of an unfathomable disaster.
He arrived at New York’s Pier 11 just 20 minutes after the second World Trade Center tower had fallen, only 10 blocks away. The area’s only private commuter ferry terminal still accessible after the collapse was a scene of chaos, confusion and mass hysteria. Vessels hastily and recklessly pulled in and departed from the pier as people scrambled to get aboard any vessel that stayed long enough for them to do so. A collision appeared imminent.
Concepcion, the first U.S. Coast Guard employee at the scene, quickly organized New York City police officers and Department of Transportation officials to organize the massive crowds into lines based on their specific point of destination. He then brought all vessels at the pier under his direct control and took charge of the seaborne evacuation of the crowds of people—including injured fire fighters on their way to first aid stations—in a calm and orderly fashion.
He also had to direct vessels carrying fire fighters, emergency personnel, medical supplies, and doctors responding to the catastrophe. This massive undertaking helped guarantee the safety of thousands of people and aided in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
In the midst of all that chaos, commercial vessels also had to make their way in and out of New York harbor. Over the next 12 hours, Concepcion ensured that the port’s commerce kept moving and prevented stoppage of critical fuel deliveries to power plants across the country. A failure to deliver these goods and fuel supplies could have drastically affected the nation’s economy. He continued that vital work in the days following September 11 and ensured that over 140 passenger vessels had security plans in place allowing them to transport 140,000 daily commuters.
Concepcion’s supervisor, Brian Fisher, aptly described the enormity of his contributions: “His leadership skills, organizational skills and calm authoritative demeanor were a significant factor in averting a major marine disaster.”
Concepcion was honored with a Service to America Medal for his courage and dedication at a November 2002 ceremony, but his heroism goes beyond the September 11th attacks and their aftermath. When American Airlines flight 587 crashed into the Rockaway Beach community area two months later, Concepcion was the on-scene coordinator for the waterborne recovery of plane parts and debris. His teamwork with all the different agencies involved—including the FBI, National Transportation Safety Board, and the New York police and fire departments—led to a complete recovery of all significant debris in less then thirty-six hours.
In the year since September 11, the threat of terrorism persists and Concepcion’s work continues. He worked with state and local officials and industry in New York to develop port security plans to meet future terrorist threats and now works at the newly created Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as the Branch Chief for Maritime Passenger Security.
This medalist was the recipient of the Homeland Security Medal. This medal was combined with the Justice and Law Enforcement category in 2013, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.