9/11: Ten years later

Published 5:30 pm Saturday, September 10, 2011

A test of the Tribute in Light rises above lower Manhattan, Tuesday in New York. The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky Sunday evening in honor of those who died 10 years before in the terror attacks on the United States. — Associated Press Photo

Local residents still feel repercussions of 2001 tragedy

Sept. 11 is the watershed moment of this generation.

As so many people have said, things changed when the U.S. was attacked. Even in Mower County, Minnesota, the American way of life has evolved because of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

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“That’s hard to believe that in America this could happen,” local veteran Norm Hecimovich told Sumner students Friday.

Firefighters make their way through the rubble of the World Trade Center 11 September 2001 in New York after two hijacked planes flew into the landmark skyscrapers. — Associated Press Photo

‘Everybody quit what they were doing’

Like millions, Brad McBeain of Austin watched as a plane crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center, live on television on Sept. 11, 2001.

He was in the Army at the time, stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. Though his unit was supposed to go for a run, it was pouring rain, and he and the soldiers were inside the base gym with the TVs on. After the first plane hit, the soldiers turned their stations and watched with everyone else across America.

“Everybody quit what they were doing,” he said.

The events that unfolded that day shocked McBeain and others at Fort Lewis. McBeain knew he was going to deploy at some point, and he said the terrorist attacks only fostered more patriotism among all soldiers. McBaein said when deployments started to Iraq, there was no apprehension among troops.

“It‘s something everybody wanted to to be a part of,” he said. “I think everybody would have volunteered to go over there first.”

McBeain, who served one year in Iraq starting September 2004, doesn’t question that the U.S. has stepped up its international security. That’s something that isn’t only necessary, he said, but comforting to people all around the nation who need a sense of security.

“I definitely think we’re getting better,” McBeain said about fighting terrorism. “When you fight terrorism — the way that security has been taken in Iraq and Afghanistan these last 10 years — it’s constantly evolving.”

However, he hinted that there is still a terrorist threat.

“Terrorists, they change their tactics over time,” McBeain said. “They adapt to what we do, and we adapt to what they do.”

Now an Army Veteran and member of the VFW Post 1216, McBeain stays active in local military ceremonies. He is among the color guard for Sunday’s 10-year anniversary of 9/11, being held 2 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial in Austin.

Pedestrians run from the scene as one of the World Trade Center Towers collapses on September 11, 2001 in New York following a terrorist plane crash on the twin towers. — AFP Photo

No longer public safety as usual

It can be argued that few industries were affected by 9/11 more than police and fire departments throughout the country. Both Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan and Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey said business as usual has certainly changed, and both departments are better prepared for a large-scale catastrophe.

“Even outside of something being caused by a terrorist, 9/11 definitely opens your eyes to what happens in a large scale national disaster,” McKichan said. “It gets you thinking that even in Austin there are things that could impact us the same way New York was impacted that day. There are ways that accidents can impact us and have a national effect.”

In the last 10 years, training for large-scale events like 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing has increased in Austin public safety. McKichan also said the police department follows up on reports of suspicious behavior more often than before, because people are more aware of circumstances that seem off-kilter.

“Since 9/11, I think people have been more attuned to even the more small scale things,” he said. “We would rather investigate something and not have it be an issue than not know about it and have it be an issue even once.”

Healey said fire departments have used lessons from 9/11 to examine how emergency response could be more efficient and effective. Although the cause of 9/11 is irreversible, Healey said it’s always helpful to reflect on the cause of the catastrophe, how it can be prevented in the future and how emergency response teams can respond quicker to other large-scale events.

Healey watched the events of 9/11 unfold at his former fire station in Michigan. Because so many firefighters lost their lives responding to the attacks, Healey said it was a reminder that serving in the fire service can be deadly.

“Unfortunately, sometimes these situations turn fatal for us also,” he said. “We use our training and the support of the community to prepare ourselves, so we can help those that are in need.”

“We are pretty attuned to when we lose one person no matter where in the country, but to know how many people we lost that day — it definitely took your breath away,” McKichan said. “That was pretty disturbing.”

Emergency response standardized after attacks

Since 9/11, emergency management has gone national.

While county-operated emergency management precedes 9/11, Director Wayne Madson said the U.S. has implemented the National Instant Management System.

The system is essentially a nation-wide template used by all emergency management officials, hospitals, police and other first responders to all be on the same page.

“If you’ve got people from New York, California, Montana, everybody’s on the same system, so they all know how it’s going to work,” Madson said.

The events of 9/11 and, later, Hurricane Katrina revealed some flaws in the nation’s emergency response system, Madson said.

That’s not to say anyone did anything wrong responding to the 9/11 attacks, but Madson said most counties had their own unique and different methods of response.

Now, there can be a national response to one local incident through a standardized system.

“That is a pretty direct result of 9/11,” Madson said.

The changes were extensive and stressful, according to Madson, who noted a major shift was completed last year.

Counties had to update their emergency management and implement programs.

Madson compared the changes to his time in the military. Not that there’s anything militaristic, but he said every military base he visited had the same rules.

“Emergency management is becoming much the same,” he said.

The changes have taken years, and they’ve been completed in stages.

While it’s difficult to predict an attack or emergency, Madson said the changes should at least mean the country is ready.

“I think as a nation, we’re better prepared,” he said.

Madson said Veterans Affairs has also stepped up since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are more treatments offered at the Veteran’s Hospital in Minneapolis, and he noted that there’s many services offered for mental health, too.

Another standout is education benefits, which Madson said are about as good as they were after World War II.

Since Sept. 11, 2001’s attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the downed Flight 93, all airports, including local ones like Austin have experienced heavy change. - Herald file photo

Aviation never the same

After flight schools were grounded for eight weeks following 9/11, business re-opened. But, the air industry hasn’t quite been the same since.

“It’s nowhere near what it used to be,” said Bruce Budahn, owner of Austin Aeroflight Inc. and manager of Austin Municipal Airport.

Kyle Nelson, the Chief Flight Instructor at Austin Aeorflight Inc., said he’s seen interest in flying lessons — and flying in general — decrease at Austin Municipal Airport since 9/11.

“It just seemed like there was a lot more airplane flying before 9/11,” Nelson said.

“Before 9/11 there was a lot more flight training going on around the country,” he added.

Part of that may also be economics, as Budahn said flying and flight lessons are often seen as more of a luxury, rather than a need.

Even though Budahn argued that flying is safer than driving, he noted many people are leery of flying.

“The public has always seen it as a dangerous thing,” he said.

Still, that doesn’t mean the aviation industry is to blame for 9/11. Budhan warned that people shouldn’t point fingers, especially since people in the industry raised red flags about suspicious activity prior to 9/11.

“We haven’t done anything, but we take the brunt of the hit when something like this comes up,” he said.

Security has never been a serious concern at Austin Municipal Airport, according to Budahn. Even when chartered or private passenger planes land or take off in Austin, the passengers are all on a list.

“We know everyone who’s getting on our planes,” he said.

While it’s not necessarily tougher to become a licensed pilot, Kyle Nelson said he thinks many people believe it is.

Nelson said there aren’t necessarily more hoops to jump through, but there are more checks by the Department of Homeland Security.

He said officials will check documents and flight records, especially for international students.

It is harder to get licences for international flight students, but Budahn noted there have been very few in Austin.

After 9/11, Temporary Flight Restrictions went into place that banned planes from entering certain areas, like a 30 mile radius of the president’s location and the areas around nuclear power plants.

Pilots either needed to gain permission to land or risk catching the attention of F-15 fighter planes. An Iowa man who frequents the Austin Municipal Airport had this happen. Even though he had filed a flight plan, he attracted the attention of an F-16 while approaching an airport near a nuclear power plant.

“It’s kind of calmed down a little bit now,” Budhan said.