The term ground zero (sometimes also known as surface zero as distinguished from zero point) may be used to describe the point on the earth's surface where an explosion occurs. In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below an explosion (see hypocenter).
The term has often been associated with nuclear explosions and other large bombs, but is also used in relation to earthquakes, epidemics and other disasters to mark the point of the most severe damage or destruction. The term is often re-used for disasters that have a geographic or conceptual epicenter.
The origins of the term "ground zero" began with the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Japan. The Oxford English Dictionary, citing the use of the term in a 1946 New York Times report on the destroyed city of Hiroshima, defines "ground zero" as "that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, especially an atomic one."
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia was thought of as the most likely target of a nuclear missile strike during the Cold War. The open space in the center is informally known as ground zero, and a snack bar located at the center of this plaza was named the "Ground Zero Cafe" (recently renamed "Center Courtyard Cafe").
The term has also been used to describe the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, which was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The adoption of this term by the mainstream North American media with reference to the September 11th attacks began as early as 7:47 p.m. (EDT) on that day, when CBS News reporter Jim Axelrod said,
|“||Less than four miles behind me is where the Twin Towers stood this morning. But not tonight. Ground Zero, as it's being described, in today's terrorist attacks that have sent aftershocks rippling across the country.||”|
Rescue workers also used the phrase "The Pile", referring to the pile of rubble that was left after the buildings collapsed.
Ground zero is the name for the exact place where an explosion occurs. It is the place where the most damage happens. The farther away from ground zero, the less damage there is. Sometimes, people say "ground zero" about a famous explosion, like the atomic bomb in Hiroshima or the World Trade Center attacks. These places can have special markers at ground zero.