The terrorist attacks on America 10 years ago this week shocked and horrified all reasonable people, and tested the American spirit. For some, the anniversary rekindles vivid memories; for others, the memory is fading. Especially vulnerable in the aftermath were immigrant communities, whose members often had come to this country to get away from such terror and uncertainty. America was a safe place to live, work, and raise children.
None would disagree, however, that the 9/11 attacks changed substantially the way we view safety and security. It’s created a new federal department and Cabinet Secretary, as well as stimulated a thriving new security industry. Open access has given way to checkpoints and enhanced scrutiny. Streets are closed, and concrete bollards or planters queue pedestrians and cyclists away from federal buildings. Jolts from last month’s earthquake were interpreted as another attack. You have to wear a security badge or be “buzzed” into schools and offices. The simple act of delivering flowers or a pizza to an office becomes a logistical nightmare. While the flowers may not wilt in the process, that pizza most certainly will be cold!
In preparing for the 10th anniversary observances, I looked back at previous columns written in 2001 and 2002 to discern outlooks at the time, and potential differences. Other than the immediate horror at the time, the reflections are as current today as they were then. We learned how fragile life is, how the seemingly imperative things we were doing previously paled in significance as we focused on the really important issues that matter most. We learned to take nothing for granted, and reordered our priorities, or changed them altogether.
One thing that has changed is communication between local public safety agencies and
the state and federal agencies In fact, the template for emergency response across the nation was created in our metropolitan area. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) worked quickly to mobilize resources and coordinate activities of the region’s local governments through a Task Force on Homeland Security and Emergency Response. Exactly one year after the attacks, the COG Board approved a Regional Emergency Coordination Plan developed by the Task Force. The plan now is administered and updated regularly by the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council through COG. Additionally, the Regional Incident Communications and Coordination System (RICCS) has 24/7 communications capability that can be triggered for any emergency, natural or human-caused. Most recently, RICCS was activated for Hurricane Irene.
After 9/11, many civic leaders wondered if they should continue traditions of community picnics and other events. Fortunately, picnics, parades, and community gatherings are even more successful now as neighbors want to reach out to both old and new residents. As I noted a year after 9/11, breaking bread together has long been an American tradition. That custom seems to be stronger now, and with interesting new ethnic foods, throughout Mason District. The terrorists thought they could isolate us; instead they have brought us together, with new resolve and new commitment to our freedom and way of life 10 years later.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]