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Author: Randall D. Larson
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Originally Published in our Jan/Feb 2001 issue.
Our last issue began our comprehensive coverage of our response to the terrors of September 11th, 2001. For many, those events, especially those in Manhattan, seemed insurmountable, incredulous, impossible to respond to with any means other than chaos. But there was order in the midst of calamity, an appropriate response was mounted and managed, and diverse responders from many disciplines came together to aid each other. In this issue we focus on the days that followed, examining the aftermath and recovery that followed the dreadful hours of that unforgettable day.
On September 11th, the embodiment of evil gripped our nation and snuffed out the lives of hundreds of public safety personnel and thousands of innocent civilians. But on that same day and those that followed, we saw that goodness proved more than the match to the evil wrought by terrorism. We saw, we read, we heard of countless acts of humanitarianism, of governmental leadership, of heroism in the midst of chaos and tragedy.
As the shock, outrage, and grief of September segues into a new kind of normalcy, those of us in public safety recognize that life in America is not and will not be the same. Continued threats of bioterrorism and suspicious persons or packages have assaulted our 9-1-1 centers in previously unheard of quantities. Our public is more nervous, more apt to call about seemingly minor suspicions, and we have to be understanding and responsible because the potential for renewed terrorism is very real. Military aircraft patrol the skies above many of our cities, reminders that a continuing threat exists, as does our resolve to be prepared to fight back in a big way.
Now that four months have passed since the sights and sounds and feelings of September 11th seared themselves into our collective memories, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and explore what can be learned from our unified response to the attacks. There was no way any of us could have prepared for an event of the magnitude that took place in New York City. With the threat of further terrorist strikes during a time of war, no police, fire, or EMS department or district can truly claim to be completely prepared nor completely isolated from the continued threat of terrorism. Collectively and individually, our local public safety agencies must be as prepared as possible, and we must be willing to take a hard look at our policies and our mutual training, and we must be very prudent with our budgets to allow us to gain an appropriate local preparedness. Our national Urban Search & Rescue and Incident Management Team programs need to take a close look at their integrated into operations in Manhattan and the Pentagon and learn how best to execute an appropriate and effective supporting role into a local jurisdiction deeply affected by such an event. Local agencies need to recognize the capabilities and expertise of these national teams and not feel threatened by their assimilation into local incidents, and all must work together and share a mutual mission free of ownership conflicts.
Our intent in this issue is to examine the lessons learned from our response in a positive and constructive manner. There are no fingers to point. There are no glaring mistakes to be criticized. There was only the best response that could be mounted by local and national responders to an unprecedented tragedy wrought through evil and malevolent intent, amid the threat of further attacks. Our goal is to recognize what succeeded and encourage new solutions to those situations that were the most challenging to our unified response.
With the dawn of 2002, the dust clouds of lower Manhattan continue to cast a shadow upon ongoing life in America. Our goal in public safety is to persevere and be ready for continued unity within the public safety community should further malicious destruction be waged against us. We feel our wounds deeply, but we move on and resume life with a positive and renewed spirit; sometimes, as now, with a firmer resolve, a more coherent anticipation of our reaction, and perhaps a different outlook as to what really matters.