According to a new Washington Post poll, almost half of Washington-area residents say the attacks caused a lasting change in their lives, while 23 percent of Washingtonians say they avoid attending a public event out of fear of another attack. What do you remember about the tragic events of September 11, 2001? Like most people, you can probably recall every detail – where you were, what you were doing, etc. You probably even remember the family and friends you called throughout the day.
Ten years later the vivid images of that unforgettable day remain engrained in so many minds and influence the daily behavior of all of us more than we even realize. As we remember the victims, survivors, and first responders of 9/11, a few of our National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) staff recall their own vivid memories of that fateful day. As part of the National Sheriffs' Association’s (NSA) commemorative magazine issues, several NCPC employees were asked to share their memories. I encourage you to read their responses here.
This month is also National Preparedness Month. It is a time to take the lessons and emotions of 9/11 and commit to making hometown and homeland security a priority. Every day NCPC works to improve our hometown security through our crime prevention resources and it works directly with local law enforcement across the country to find solutions to community crime problems.
To all of those who were first to respond, save lives, rescue people, or provide support on that day, we thank you. To all those who tragically lost their lives and their loved ones who mourn them, we remember you this weekend. And finally, to those who survived and all the rest of us who remember that tragic day, please take a stand.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 and National Preparedness Month is clearly a time to refocus Americans on being prepared, being vigilant, and working together to make our communities – and ultimately our Nation – safer and more secure.
So I ask you not only, what do you remember about the tragic events of September 11, 2001 but what are you doing to help make sure we never have another terrorist tragedy like it?
Director of Communications: Michelle Boykins
How was your office affected directly?
The National Crime Prevention Council’s office at the time was on the 13th floor of a downtown building at the corner of Connecticut and K streets, NW. It was a scary moment to see the plume of smoke from our office building and not know what was on fire. At the same we are seeing the breaking news coverage of what was happening in New York.
I remember that as NCPC began evacuation procedures there were staff members who didn’t know how they were going to get home. They weren’t even sure if they should trust public transportation. At that point we didn’t know if there were more terrorist attacks still to come.
Several staff members who drove to work each day packed their cars with co-workers headed in the same direction or who needed a place to stay while we all figured out what to do next. I packed four co-workers into my car and headed out of DC. It took hours to get from DC to my home in Alexandria. One co-worker stayed with me until evening because she was having trouble getting in touch with her family to have someone come get her. We were all shaken to our core as we tried in vain to talk with family members and watched the events unfold through television news accounts.
How were you impacted on 9/11 or the days immediately after?
Professionally, our CEO, Jack Calhoun, gave an impassioned speech the next day when we returned to work. NCPC staff began talking about what we could do in response to these terrorist attacks. People were scared. How could we, as an organization, help to reassure the public and help law enforcement in the aftermath of 9/11. I am proud to say that NCPC was first out there with a public service advertising campaign called “United for a Stronger America” and we produced one of the first homeland security publications called the Citizens’ Preparedness Guide.
NCPC, with The White House, launched the USA campaign by releasing several TV spots and Internet web banners. Within eight months of the campaign launch the tracking data demonstrated that the campaign was making a difference in raising the awareness of community involvement in neighborhoods among adults.
Nearly three in 10 adults over the age of 18 (29%) recognized the PSAs and reported they were significantly more likely to have taken action because they saw the advertisement.
In addition, 37 percent reported they had worked to make themselves and their families safer, while 17 percent acted to make their communities safer.
Lastly, 54 percent of the respondents said they did something to “make your neighborhood safer” and “would like to see something more done about it.”
How have the procedures at work changed specifically as a result of 9/11?
In the weeks following the events of 9/11, NCPC enacted policies that would help us evacuate in the event of any future attacks. We also enhanced our staff phone tree list (including cell phone numbers and emergency contacts all in one document) and dedicated a phone line within the office that would always be updated in the case of emergencies.
I was then and remain proud of the NCPC response to 9/11. As an agency we stood strong in the midst of chaos and helped people learn to take action. In that moment, crime prevention translated to hometown safety and became part of homeland security. Once again, we showed the public and worked with our partners to show them what role they could play in protecting their families, communities, and the nation.
Managing Director, Programs, Training & Multimedia Services: Judy Kirby
As we listened to reports of what was going on in New York City, we could see smoke out of the CEO’s office window. The reports were that the State Department had been hit but it was difficult to tell what was happening. Only later did we discover that it was the Pentagon.
One of my staff members had been out at a meeting and called me to say they were announcing on the Metro that the United States had been attacked by terrorists and to ask what should she do. And none of us really knew the answer to that. It was an unprecedented event and people were frightened. But we did know that Washington, DC, was a likely target. As more information came in, the CEO sent people home. I rode home with four other people from the office because we were being cautioned against using the Metro. The city was gridlocked. It took over 2 hours just to get across the bridge to Virginia.
But as people went home and watched the devastating footage of planes flying into the World Trade Center towers and people jumping to their deaths, many became resolved that the terrorists would not win. They would not ruin our country, our patriotism, or our economy. They would not make us shrink in fear. And so we returned to work the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Reports of heroism emerged and flags spontaneously appeared wherever there was a place – on houses, overpasses, bridges, office windows.
In the days and months following, NCPC did put in place policies that would help us evacuate or shelter in place should this occur again. And NCPC worked with the White House to get out the first guide to help people prepare – the Citizens’ Preparedness Guide. And we recovered and tried to heal – as a nation, as individuals.
Senior Training Manager, Programs, Training & Multimedia Services: Sarita Coletrane
How was your office affected directly?
Because the office at that time was located in downtown Washington, DC, there was a sense of panic as well as deep sadness and disbelief. Many of the employees were watching the televisions in the various conference rooms, waiting for direction from the President and CEO as to whether the office would be closed. After the initial attacks, there were a lot of incorrect accounts of fires on the Mall area near the monument and White House, the Capitol being attacked, and so forth. It was difficult to make the initial decision to close the office because there was a question on whether the employees would be safe. The office did eventually close but many employees, myself included, left before the decision was made.
How were you impacted on 9/11 or the days immediately after?
At the time, my husband was a detective with the Prince Georges County Police Department and I had two other immediate family members who were law enforcement, including a sister-in-law with the Capitol Police. She was greatly affected that day because initially it was reported that the plane that hit the Pentagon was aimed toward the Capitol. All of my family members were placed on high alert, especially around the military facilities. We also realized that, as a family, we needed to come up with a family plan for making sure our children were taken care of because of the family members’ respective jobs.
How have the procedures at work changed specifically as a result of 9/11?
NCPC instituted a more comprehensive evacuation plan as well as bought emergency kits for the entire staff. We had several meetings about that day and what happened and were asked for suggestions on what the agency could do to better protect its employees. There was also a list of employees who drove to work and who were willing to take employees home in the event of an emergency. A telephone tree was developed as a result of these meetings for this type of circumstance.
Because Metro eventually stopped operation (I found out that a few of my co-workers and I was on the last train that ran out of the city) we decided to come up with our own plan in case this happened again. We alerted our respective families of all of our phone numbers (there were about six or seven of us that got together on this plan), a plan to go to the only person who lived in Washington, DC, and a back-up hotel in case we couldn’t get to our co-worker’s home. There were several other employees who did this as well with their own groups.
And any additional comments you may have.
I really appreciated the fact that our senior staff members did take this situation seriously and really made the effort to ensure that future planning occurred and that staff safety was taken into consideration. I also think the employees were willing to help each other out as evidenced by driving people home or those who had homes in DC, willing to open themselves up and offer their services to their co-workers.
President and CEO, NCPC: Ann M. Harkins
We were on vacation in New England. I can still see the ocean on one of the most sparkling, beautiful mornings of a lifetime. When we left Block Island on an 8 a.m. ferry, all was right with the world; when we flipped on the radio at about 9:15 on the other side, the world had changed forever.
It was not too long since I left the Justice Department and, after the immediate shock and denial, I kept asking, “What can I do to help?” on the long ride home to West Virginia. One of the hardest parts of that ride was that cell service was out. I had a brief conversation with my brother and then almost no contact. Most of my husband’s family lives abroad and it was very painful for them not to be able to reach us.
Later, sadly, I would learn that people I knew and had worked with died at the Pentagon and in New York.
Deputy Sergeant at Arms (DSAA)
As I look back on it, the most inexplicable part of this story is that about a week after 9/11, I was in the final interviews to become Deputy Sergeant at Arms in the Senate (DSAA). Then Sergeant at Arms and Chair of the Capitol Police Board, Alfonso Lenhardt (MG, USA, Retired), my predecessor at the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) had immediately after 9/11 identified security measures to be taken to secure the Capitol Complex. He created a multi-disciplinary task force to start that process. During 9/11, Al Lenhardt had just been appointed Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. He is now U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania.
Our hope, when I started the DSAA job in October, was that Al Lenhardt would focus on Security and I would deal with the many other aspects of the Sergeant at Arms’ responsibilities – Doorkeepers in the Senate Chamber, computer services and security, telecommunications, facilities management, finance, human resources, interaction with Senate offices, press galleries, and operations from vehicles to printing.
As it happened, my first day as DSAA, October 15, 2001, was the day the anthrax letter was opened in Senator Daschle’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building. Those plans for our division of labor were quickly changed. We were “all anthrax all the time” – immediately thrown into the incident command in response to the greatest bio-terrorist attack of our time, which shortly thereafter included another letter; this time to my former boss, Senator Patrick Leahy.
Ruefully, I often joke that my first day lasted about 3½ months. That inter-agency team did an extraordinary job and the Hart Building re-opened in January 2002.
The anthrax attack also had Constitutional implications. Fully one-half of the U.S. Senate was displaced. It was an extraordinary time for the Senate community, which came together admirably with the help and support of the Senate bipartisan leadership, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate Jeri Thomson, the Rules Committee, the Architect of the Capitol, the Attending Physicians Office, the Capitol Police, the Senate Chaplain, and many others. Indispensable partners in the incident response were the House Leadership, the House Sergeant at Arms Office, the U.S. Army and Navy, the EPA, the Coast Guard, CDC, the Public Health Service, and many other unsung heroes on the inter-agency team. The team continued to enhance security measures on the Capitol complex while responding to the anthrax incident.
And, whether or not we used the term in the midst of crisis response and management, Crime Prevention Through Environment Design (CPTED) principles – surveillance, access control, territorial reinforcement – were central to our work.
Although I was not in the Capitol in September, the fact that we were already enhancing CPTED-type security measures certainly supported the anthrax incident response. The incredible Sergeant at Arms office staff had the Senate staff whose offices were in the Hart Building up and running in temporary office space over one long weekend.
I also had the honor of coordinating two Homeland Security Summits in conjunction with Senator Rockefeller’s Office in West Virginia in 2003 and 2006. Those summits underscored the lessons of planning, practice, and coordinating across agency lines. West Virginia continues its preparedness work through statewide and regional summits in that spirit.
Prevention is the first prong of preparedness.
Leaders must remain calm in the face of a crisis because the tone one sets can affect thousands of people.
Live every day to the fullest because the world literally can change in an instant.
NCPC was proud to develop the Citizens’ Preparedness Guide in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the White House immediately after September 11th. We continue to participate in Citizen Corps activities, which consists of local branches of FEMA that help coordinate volunteer activities and make communities safer from disasters and acts of terrorism.
In 2007, with vital support from Congressman Hal Rogers, working with BJA and Citizens Corps, NCPC pulled together and convened the first National Watch Groups Summit. The purpose of the Summit was twofold: to give Watch Groups a national perspective on crime prevention and homeland security and to gather information from participants about what makes a Watch Group successful. Over time, the traditional idea of Neighborhood Watch evolved to include other types of Watches—Block Watch, Business Watch, Farm Watch, Waterways Watch, and others.
Since then, NCPC has continued to have emergency and continuity of operations procedures in place. We have had tabletop exercises to refine those procedures.
The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy is a good reminder to all Americans to revisit those practices and procedures, and ensure that emergency equipment, plans and procedures for their offices and homes are up to date. Citizens are encouraged to visit the NCPC website for free information on programs and downloadable resources available to them regarding disaster preparedness.
Going back to the key principle that prevention is the first prong of preparedness, here’s how we look at it at NCPC:
o Basic Crime Prevention principles -- watching out and helping out, paying attention to your surroundings, employing CPTED principles, engaging the community in partnership with law enforcement, staying on top of trends, basing work on research, sharing best practices and lessons learned – are the same whether you are preventing an assault, a water main break, drug trafficking, or a terrorist attack.
o Crime prevention measures already in place, such as Neighborhood Watch and community policing, can be expanded to include homeland security measures.
o Terrorist activities are criminal acts; therefore, terrorism prevention is crime prevention.
NCPC believes that an aware, alert, and informed citizenry may be America’s strongest defense against terrorism. Americans like the vender in Times Square have proven that. The general public remains an enormous and largely untapped reservoir of information that could be vital to the nation’s security. That is why NCPC continues to serve as an affiliate member of Citizen Corps and participates in its conference calls to cross-promote crime prevention and homeland security.
NCPC is extremely excited to recognize its own Celebrate Safe Communities initiative in which local communities step up to help fill the crime prevention gaps that have unfortunately occurred from recent law enforcement budget cuts. With the year-round CSC events, we look forward to partnering with the Department of Homeland Security, specifically during Crime Prevention Month in October, to bring awareness to the importance of civilians partaking in the success of our country’s national security measures. Crime prevention will always remain “everyone’s business.”