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One Year Later
Author: Randall D. Larson
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Originally Published in our Sept/Oct 2002 issue.
The world changed in a profound way on September 11th. We were victimized, in a terrible, unimaginable and, for those of us in public safety, in a very personal way. Even a year later, each of us can certainly remember in vivid detail our activities, our thoughts, our feelings on that terrible Tuesday morning.
In San Jose, my shift was 15 minutes shy of our last hour before we would be relieved by dayshift, when a police dispatcher poked his head in the door and said we’d better turn on CNN – a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. And we began to watch in awe-struck silence the thick, black smoke gushing from Tower 1, a sick feeling gnawing in our stomachs even as the newscasters postulated about pilot error and airplane malfunction and what a clear day it was… and then we watched as another airplane crept into the television frame, a small speck inching its way across the screen behind the billowing smoke… and we watched it as it happened… a tremendous yellowish-scarlet explosion, silent on the TV screen, and that sick feeling raged with confirmation that this was no accident, no happenstance of malfunctioning guidance systems or inattentive piloting. And we continued to watch in muted horror as a second plume of black, belching smoke erupted out of Tower 2. Then came a report of a huge fire at the Pentagon…. then of hijacked airliners… then of a crash in Pennsylvania… then of a complete and all-encompassing grounding of all air traffic throughout the United States… and readiness from coast to coast for continued attacks...
That last hour of my midnight shift turned into an additional six spent in the city’s Emergency Operations Center as we accounted for each airliner still due into the city’s international airport, bolstered our ability to be ready should an attack come upon our city or that of our neighbors – as did nearly every county, city, township, 9-1-1 center, and emergency dispatch facility across the nation.
And there were continued alerts, and continued activations of our EOC in the coming weeks. We monitored potential targets in our jurisdiction, and we also made sure we would be prepared to render assistance to our neighboring communities in case they came under attack. New security precautions in our government buildings and the military jets patroling the air space over cities like mine were a continued reminder that the events of September 11th would not likely be over for a long time.
Gradually we managed to achieve a sense of normalcy. We shrugged off delays encountered at airports and learned to live under the new paradigm that we, too, are vulnerable. And we mourned our lost in a profoundly personal way.
And now it’s been a year. It is time to remember, to pay respects, and to evaluate what we have done over the last twelve months to become better prepared. While some have chosen to criticize the actions of others, most of us have taken the more positive steps of strengthening our readiness, updating our emergency plans, and increasing our communications interoperability with our allied agencies. Constructive criticism can be a good thing if it leads to positive change instead of rallying blame-mongering, and it’s been with this attitude that we have examined lessons learned by those impacted by September 11th during several of our last six issues. With this anniversary reflection, we take a look at those dispatchers in the midst of 9/11 and how the last six months have fared for them.
Every one of us involved in public safety – response, management, or communications – is in a different place today because of what happened a year ago. Our resolve to stand united and stand strong remains firm, as does our commitment to keeping our communities safe and our response to all emergencies an informed and proactive one.