Frank Hahnel - A heart to serve
September 11, 2001. November 6, 2009. June 16, 2016.
These dates live in infamy in the history of the United States of America. Two terrorist attacks and one workplace shooting. More than 3,000 dead, thousands more injured. Lives were forever changed.
All three incidents were captured with laser scanning technology provided by Frank J. Hahnel, III, Leica Geosystems North America Public Safety account manager.
There when help is needed
Working in a company whose brand identity is robust red, a blue stripe stands out. Standing at around 6 feet 5 inches tall (1.8 m) at 300 pounds (136 kilos), Hahnel projects an impressive presence when he enters a room. What you notice instantly, though, is a bright blue stripe on the left sleeve of his Polo shirt.
“I wear this with pride. My heart is closer than ever before with the men and women who wear blue,” states Hahnel.
The American flag with blue stripe has become the symbol for the movement in the United States to show support for police nationwide.
“A lot of great people work in these departments, and they make a sacrifice every time they go to work,” said Hahnel. “Neither they nor their families know if they’ll be walking back through that door each evening.”
Before finding his place within the public safety community, though, Hahnel travelled a non-traditional path.
A Florida, USA, native, Hahnel started his career in the field – literally. As a bright-eyed 18-year-old surveyor technician, Hahnel took every opportunity to be out in the field, gathering knowledge and experience. He conducted land and as-built surveys before moving on to work shortly in survey software technical support and development.
Always interested in new and developing technology, Hahnel was next picked up by Cyra Technologies, Inc. in 2000 shortly before it was acquired by Leica Geosystems to become the High Definition Surveying (HDS) business unit. Under the transition, Hahnel became an applications engineer, developing and testing laser scanning technology that at that time could capture 900 points per second in a 40 degree by 40 degree window – an unprecedented amount.
Shortly after the transition, Hahnel’s skills came to the notice of Chuck Coiner, Leica Geosystems Public Safety Group manager, who saw a good fit for Hahnel’s drive and passion in sales.
“Frank is the full package when it comes to sales,” said Coiner. “He can do all of the field work, process the data in any software package we use, and provide workflow results for his customers.”
When the worst terrorist attack to ever occur on U.S. soil took place Sept. 11, 2001, Hahnel, whose father was born in the City and mother born in Newburgh, New York, made his way to Ground Zero with a laser scanner. He was there to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in volume calculations of all the above ground debris from the towers. Shortly after, he would travel to Washington, D.C., to capture the destruction of the Pentagon for the FBI, and digitally preserve the U.S. Capitol for the architect, before returning to New York to perform volume calculations again of the Twin Towers’ wreckage on Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill.
As the son of U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War and a 40-year career nurse, surrounded by uncles and cousins of firefighters, police officers and military service members, Hahnel says public service is in his blood.
“I’m there when help is needed,” said Hahnel. “It doesn’t matter when or where, I’ll be there when public safety professionals need me.”
Though a horrifying and emotionally draining experience, Hahnel says he was glad to be of service. Despite the trauma, Hahnel knew he had found his calling.
Finding a calling to serve
While Hahnel continued to outperform sales goal each year, he, like most Americans, became victim to the U.S. economic crash of 2008. While seeing sales fall and dealing with personal struggles at home, Hahnel recalled his sense of purpose working at Ground Zero.
“I don’t see myself as just a ‘sales guy,’” said Hahnel. “I’m there to consult and really work with clients, and I was able to do that most effectively and with most sense of purpose when I was working on the 9/11 scenes.”
After discussing the idea with Coiner, Hahnel began an aggressive strategy to develop the public safety sector.
“I started in accident investigation because we knew this laser scanning technology could bring untold benefits to the officers,” said Hahnel. “From preserving evidence to clearing the scene faster, laser scanning has a real place in public safety.”
Public safety was a market that not only needed a disruptive workflow change, but also technical education. Coiner knew Hahnel could teach these customers to make sure they embraced the technology and could be successful in its deployment.
“Public safety really embodies ‘when it has to be right.’ This is really what Frank lives by,” said Coiner. “His passion for helping people with the Leica Geosystems solutions combined with the experience in starting a new market, Frank made a perfect fit for starting up the public safety focus.”
Hahnel had his first chance to prove the laser scanning technology shortly after on Nov. 6, 2009. When a lone gunman entered his former workplace in Orlando, tragedy struck again, this time close to home for Hahnel who was born and grew up in a suburb of the city. Killing one and injuring five others, the scene, the entire eighth floor of an office building, had to be captured quickly to preserve evidence for court.
Hahnel was called to the scene by Karen Livengood, Orland Police Department Crime Scene Unit (OPD CSU) investigator, to document and process the data. For the first time, a Leica ScanStation C10 was used on a crime scene, and Hahnel testified in court to the accuracy of the scan data.
“This was a life-changing event for me,” said Hahnel. “This struck my community, and I was able to be there to support my hometown police while proving the value in the technology I’ve been involved with almost my entire career.”
Hahnel was awarded the OPD’s Good Citizen Award for his actions that day.
“Frank put in a lot of time, personal time, to support us. He’s always willing to drop everything to help us, help law enforcement in general,” said Livengood. “He deserved to be recognised for his efforts. He’s a hard worker, and you just don’t find many people like him anymore.”
Unfortunately, Hahnel would once again be called to support his hometown in a time of crisis.
The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub June 12, 2016, leaving 49 dead and injuring more than 50 others, has become the second worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. The gunman, who was later identified with ties to overseas terrorist organizations, was killed by authorities after a three-hour hostage standoff in the early morning.
On vacation two hours away at the time, Hahnel was woken that Sunday morning with requests for assistance. Livengood again reached out to Hahnel to support with laser scanning documentation of the large scene. On the drive back to his shaken hometown, Hahnel tried to ready himself for what he was about to walk into.
“The scene was a mass of death. When you have an event like this, there is no preparing yourself,“ said Hahnel. “I had to ready myself as much as possible because there was a job to do.”
Taking two Leica ScanSation P40s, Hahnel captured scenes outside the club with Livengood while the rest of the OPD Crime Scene Unit used its own personal Leica ScanStation C10 inside. Combined, they were able to document the entire crime scene in less than a day.
“Crime scenes present many obstacles for documentation, from several agencies, like the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and ATF] Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives], on site to irregular debris strewed everywhere,” said Hahnel. “Our technology brings a peace of mind for law enforcement, though, they will be able to capture every detail and not leave anything behind.”
Almost a year after the horrific attack, Hahnel would again be recognised by the OPD for his swift action and support that infamous day.
“From the first day I met Frank when I began researching using laser scanning on crime scenes, he’s been there to support me and the Department. Whether it was answering questions or showing us how to use the scanners, Frank never lets us down,” said Livengood. “He’s become a good friend, not only to me but to all law enforcement. He’s always willing to help, and we know we can trust him.”
Receiving help when needed
After documenting these three major incidents, plus supporting other events involving destruction and death, anyone would be affected by the trauma. Hahnel began showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his time at Ground Zero.
“I love my job, and I love Leica Geosystems for giving me the opportunity to support the people who are day in and day out seeing things that no normal human should ever have to see,” said Hahnel. “I have been shaped, though, by my work. I’m not the same person I was before.”
Though he lived with the symptoms of PTSD, such as panic attacks and anxiety, for years, Hahnel began a journey to recover starting in 2008. Between 2010- 2013, three events took place that would alter Hahnel even further and his perception of mental health.
First, in August 2010, he was blessed with the birth of his first and only child, Addisyn. Like most proud fathers, he says his daughter is the best part of his life. Where he once defined success by titles and roles, “making sure my daughter is an awesome adult” is now his new standard.
Second, in 2011 Hahnel was asked by Point of Beginning to write a three-part series about his experience laser scanning Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the Capitol in honour of the 10 year anniversary:
Hahnel contributes his ongoing healing process to this series, saying it allowed him to express emotions he hadn’t since the attack.
Finally, Hahnel met his future wife, Khira Starr Beck Williams, in 2010. A lover of life and cats, Williams encouraged Hahnel to continue to heal his PTSD scars. The couple married in 2014 after Beck was diagnosed with cancer.
“She was my inspiration. Through the chemo, through it all, she had a smile on her face the whole time,” said Hahnel. “If she could smile through all that, I knew I could find the help I needed and keep going.”
Khira Starr Beck Hahnel lost her battle with cancer Dec. 19, 2016 at 6:15 p.m. With her husband, former husband, children, stepdaughter, parents, family members and friends by her side, she said goodbye.
Today, Hahnel encourages public safety professionals and others working in high-stress positions to talk about the challenges of mental health. He strives to remove the stigma of seeking and receiving help when it is desperately needed in these situations.
“Talking about my own struggles, seeking the help Khira encouraged me to find – it’s changed me for the better,” said Hahnel. “As a profession, we should encourage more law enforcement and other members of public safety to not be afraid, help is there when they need it; even if they feel like they don’t need it.”
Continuing to serve
Hahnel continues to embody the Geosystems values, specifically professionalism, engagement and customer focus, in his everyday work with public safety professionals. With a heart to serve, his commitment to the business, his customers and his team is evident.
“Along with being a technical competent and professional sales person, Frank is also a very caring and passionate human being,” said Coiner. “He is always the first to step forward for others, and he’s never afraid to help someone.”
Hopefully, Hahnel will have no need to mark another infamous date. If the call is made, though, he’ll be ready to serve public safety professionals with laser scanning technology.
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