American school texts, quoting Emerson's Concord Hymn (1837), tell us that the rifles fired at Lexington and Concord,Massachusetts, in 1775 were “the shot heard round the world”. In a more literal sense, given the virtually instantaneous transmission of current news events, September 11, 2001 has become for adults and children worldwide just such a universally acknowledged point of reference. The attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in the financial center of New York City on September 11th occurred in the morning rush hours of a bright sunny September day, at which time hundreds of thousands of persons near to or inside the WTC were either already at work, at school, or still on their way. Because September 11th was, and probably will remain, a defining moment in American history, it is important to understand how society's leading agencies responded to this event and how and why they took specific actions. From such analyses we can better prepare for future disasters, and, thus, be in a better position to meet the psychological needs of those most affected in such times. In this chapter, we outline the background, development and major findings of the New York City Board of Education's (NYC BOE) epidemiological study of the psychological effects of September 11 on a representative sample of 8236 4th–12th grade public school students.
Without question, it was immediately understood that the terrorist attacks on September 11th had the potential to have a great psychological impact on children. But before comprehensive, long-term interventions could be planned and implemented, the precise extent and manifestations of these mental health effects needed to be assessed.