Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and an open field in Shanksville, PA? Can you recall your thoughts when you heard the news? After 9/11 each of our lives changed and we now have a “new normal” that encompasses our daily lives.
The events of September 11, 2001 are vivid in our minds today and are so entrenched that none of us will soon forget. Whether it is the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or in a field in Pennsylvania; the imploding of the World Trade Center buildings or the pride Americans felt as firefighters raised flags at the Pentagon or the raising of the flag on the pile of the World Trade Center. The events of 9/11 can shake the foundation of our great structures but it cannot be allowed to shake the foundation of American society and the values that we as a nation hold. In its emotional impact, September 11, 2001, may have been the most horrifying single day in American history. As bloody as some of the great battles and disasters of the past have been, the news about them tended to trickle out: most Americans read detailed accounts of Antietam, Hunter’s raid on VMI or Pearl Harbor well after the event. On September 11, Americans watched on television, in real time, as the twin towers of the World Trade Center burned and their fellow citizens flung themselves to their deaths from 100 stories up. Americans all watched as the towers imploded, and they all knew that they were witnessing, in seconds, the deaths of thousands of their compatriots in the nation’s front yard.
Today, Americans gather at the Pentagon, a field in Shanksville, PA, near the site of the New York World Trade Center, and Kandahar in Afghanistan, here, and at hundreds of other places around the country and the globe. United in purpose, we gather to remember the victims of the horrific terrorist attacks against this nation ten years ago today. We also gather to remember those in and out of uniform who continue the daily fight against those who would harm us for no other reason than the United States stands as a bright shining light of freedom in the world.
When the al Queda terrorists struck at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, they sought to topple the world’s mightiest symbols of military power and economic prosperity. And while those blows hurt, they did not cripple the far reaching capabilities or the effectiveness of our Armed Services and our financial institutions. United, we grieve for the 3,000 innocent people who perished in those surprise attacks against our nation. They came from all walks of life, all races, and all ages.
Among the youngest victims were three sixth-graders from the Washington, D.C. area. Bernard Brown, Asia Cottom and Rodeny Dickens took American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington’s Dulles Airport on their way to California on a National Geographic-sponsored education trip to learn about the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara. Their young lives were cut short when their hijacked jetliner flew into the west side of the Pentagon, we can only imagine the greatness that could have been contained in the souls of these three children. Who can forget Todd Beamer leading a group of passengers against the terrorists to save thousands of lives in Washington D.C. on that faithful day.
We all witnessed the tragic events of that day and many of us felt helpless, some from fear, others wanting to help and not knowing where to begin, some tried all day and night to reach family members who were in New York, or Washington; not knowing whether they were alive or dead. There was a fear of the unknown that descended over the nation and into every household as the events unfolded, as the day progressed we were reassured by our leaders that America would survive and prosper in the future. Many of us realized that the events of September 11, 2001 had changed our lives forever. Some of the changes were immediate and many more have evolved over the years.
Since the events of 9/11 we have begun the process of improving how we are prepared for terrorist’s attacks, natural, and man-made emergencies. Much of the focus has centered on the preparation of the federal government. We as citizens must realize that at the local level we play a vital role in carrying out the mission of preparedness. We have to take the necessary steps to ensure that we live in a safer community. The government will provide guidance and leadership in the area of preparedness but it is the responsibility of each citizen to prepare for their own safety, especially at home. We are safer and better prepared since the events of 9/11 but there is still work to accomplish (such as interoperability for first responders) and it is up to each and every one of us to support new measures that will be forthcoming to enhance our safety and security within the nation’s borders. Some of these measures will cost thousands of dollars and others will cost millions of dollars and we must not let our leaders refuse to provide the necessary measures simply because of the cost, no life in the world has a price and government leaders must understand and be held accountable to the new standards.
It was not long ago that we could attend school without the fear of security measures to ensure our safety but after 9/11 there was a push to ensure the safety of our school age children. School leaders must now plan for increases in gang activity, spikes in violence at athletic events, and a rise in internet and technology crimes. As technology has improved and made our lives more advanced so too has crimes against children increased. It is now up to administrators to ensure that sensitive information is removed from the school districts web sites that can be used to harm students. Changes included more supervision from adults, the use of cameras to ensure student and faculty safety. More resource officers were allocated for schools, crisis plans were mandated from the state, safety and security training is part of staff development. Crisis teams are mandated to be used by schools, administrators are responsible for providing the necessary training to their staff to ensure that all students can flourish in a safe environment and faculty can provide a quality education in a safe and orderly environment. School leaders now must understand that the concept of school safety is as important, if not more so than instructional leadership. Simply put we cannot educate our children if they are not in a safe and secure learning environment.
I like many of you can remember the days of attending sporting events and not having to worry about your safety. That too has changed, even at high school athletic events we are exposed to more uniformed security. If you have ever attended a college athletic event, a NASCAR Race, a professional athletic contest you will notice that you must arrive early and proceed through a series of security checkpoints. Prior to 9/11 most security was in place to ensure that no one became unruly during the contest, now security is there to ensure your safety. More uniform police officers, K-9 dogs, bomb squads; these include local, state, and federal authorities.
Since the events of 9/11 we as citizens have encountered increased security measures, especially in the transportation industry. Many people have complained about the changes, and, they consider these measures to be invasion of privacy, but as citizens we should be grateful that there are people who want to ensure our safety. As long as citizens have nothing to hide then they should be willing to encounter the new safety measures. We must understand that these measures are necessary for our well-being, I for one do not mind the security procedures at an airport, yes these take time but if it will ensure that I will live another day then I am fully supportive of the measures and each citizen should be fully accepting of the measures.
In the emergency services profession there has been much change both internally and externally. First responders no longer can take for granted that when they pull up on the scene of a fire or motor vehicle crash that the people will accept their assistance. First responders must be suspicious of every event when they respond; in particular when they are responding to calls that involve bomb threats or explosions they must be aware of secondary devices that may have been set to harm them. We must now be trained in weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, and radiological emergencies that can affect thousands of people. We must be prepared for mass evacuations that can occur, health emergencies that include the possibility of a pandemic; which could result in death to a large number of the population and even death to the first responder. Emergency services used to be based on the philosophy that each agency preformed the duties as outlined in their Standard Operating Procedures. Today each agency is integrated and must work jointly within the concept of an all hazard approach to ensuring the safety of the citizens that they are responsible for serving. Each agency must “EMBRACE AND SHARE THE PROCESS” and works side by side with each and every citizen to protect their community.
While many changes and safety measures have come into our lives in the past 10 years, change has been slow in some areas of the country simply due to a lack of financial support to implement the safety measures. Many say that the country is spending too much money on safety and security of citizens, I would argue that the money is well spent because there have been no new attacks the magnitude of a 9/11 event. How does one place a value on another human’s life, whether it is a terrorist attack or a lost hiker in the mountains of Rockbridge County it is important that the community understand that first responders need the tools to perform their jobs effectively; this includes Federal, State and, Local Governments, along with law enforcement agencies, and fire and rescue agencies?
In closing let me say that courage and strength are key components of American citizens, and this has been exhibited on 3 occasions in American history that stand out in my mind. July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; and September 11, 2001.
Thank you and “GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.