Newsroom

Good morning and welcome. I especially want to welcome Secretary Mineta to Seattle. Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the people of Washington state, I want to thank you for coming here to recognize these remarkable men and women with the department's highest honor.

Seven weeks ago, when the earth shook throughout this region, it revealed a lot of the things that are weak. We saw the facades of buildings crumble. We saw windows shatter. We saw roads and runways split open, and we even saw our state capitol dome damaged.

There is no doubt that the earthquake revealed what was weak in our community. But more important, the earthquake revealed what is strong. When the dust cleared, we saw the strength of our preparation. We saw how planning and investment saved lives and prevented greater damage. And we saw the strength of our people -- who came together to help each other and who made the best of a bad situation.

Just after the earthquake, I spent several days touring our state, and I heard some remarkable stories. I heard from a high school student who was in her chemistry class when the earthquake struck. As she huddled under a desk, bottles of chemicals came crashing down around her and the other students. They feared they were breathing in toxic fumes from all the chemicals, but they were too afraid to move from under their desks. I heard from State Legislators who told me that file cabinets overturned on them and their staffs as they raced to get under tables.

Without a doubt, the story of the brave men and women in the SeaTac Control Tower is the most remarkable. While everything around them was falling down, they stood firm. They finished their work with dedication and courage, and they helped avert many potential disasters. I don't know if there's a handbook on how to direct air traffic during an earthquake. If there's not, I hope you will write one because you could teach all of us a great deal.

On behalf of the people of Washington state, I want to thank you for being on duty that fateful February day, for showing such strength and courage in the face of so much uncertainty, and for ignoring the risks to your own personal safety to ensure the safety of hundreds of other people. We are grateful for your service.