Ten Years After 9/11: What’s Changed?

Nearly 10 years after 9/11, a video depicting the terrorist attacks of that day still had a sobering effect on a crowded room of security professionals. It’s a day that many will never forget and a Thursday session at ASIS 2010 was dedicated to reflecting back and discussing what has changed.

The session was presented by the Commercial Real Estate Council and featured speakers Carlos Villarreal, senior vice president of Whelan Security in the Chicago area, Keith Kambic, US Equities’ director of security for the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago, Alan Snow, director of safety and security for Boston Properties and Mark Wright, directory of security for Brookfield Properties in Houston. The session was presented in a question and answer format with the four panelists each speaking on how 9/11 affected their jobs and how security has changed since that date.

Villarreal first asked for a show of hands of how many in the crowded room were working in the security industry in 2001 in a leadership capacity. And for those that were working in the security industry, how many believed there would be another major attack soon after.

“We all did, and we were trying to protect against it,” Villarreal said. “The events changed the way we do security not only in this country, but all across the world.”

Villarreal noted that terminology like Al-Qaida/Taliban, Jihad/Fatwa, sleeper cells, Anthrax/Chembio, IED/VIED, dirty bombs, soft targets/hard targets and the Department of Homeland Security became common vernacular among everyday people.

“After 9/11, everyone became a security expert,” he said.

The biggest change after 9/11, according to Villarreal, was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to its creation, there were 32 or 33 agencies doing their own thing, he said.

“The DHS created national threat levels for the public sector, but people in the private sector reacted to it as well,” he said.

Attendees learned that since 9/11, 30 terrorist plots against the United States have been foiled. Most of the attack attempts were on a smaller level, such as Richard Reid, the shoe bomber in 2002 and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, the 19-year-old Jordanian citizen who attempted to bomb a high-rise building in Downtown Dallas last year.

“The threats are real, and they keep coming at us,” Villarreal said. “It’s not going to be a big event. Something smaller, more strategic could happen anywhere in America.”

Following the background information presented by Villarreal, each panelist was asked to describe what they were doing the morning of 9/11 and what operational decisions they made in response to the attacks that day. The panelists also were asked to describe the general feeling within their organization regarding security and safety and how they responded to employees, tenants and customers.

The panelists described 9/11 as a “bad day,” with people in high-rise buildings fearing for their security. Many working in those environments self-evacuated, they said. The panelists said they spent many hours reassuring tenants and employees that it was safe to come into the building.

Different attitudes were noticed in different parts of the country. Houston-based security director Mark Wright said that in the south, the terrorist attack felt like something that happened in another part of the country.

Panelists then described how their security and life safety programs have changed. Of note were more effective mass communication methods, a life safety management position dedicated to tenants, situational awareness training, and increased emergency preparedness, such as full building evacuation drills, turnstiles and visitor management systems.

When describing the state of disaster readiness in his market, Wright noted, “It’s not about defending, it’s about resilience if something does occur,” to which all the panelists agreed.





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