10 years after the 9/11 attacks, it’s what we do. We tell our friends, co-workers and family the story of what we remember from that awful day. You’ve heard it before and you have your own story. Most of them go something like this: “I was sipping my coffee and about to turn off the morning news and head to the office, and that’s when the first reports came in that a plane had hit the World Trade Center building. We couldn’t believe how a pilot could have made that mistake, but when we heard that a second plane, a huge passenger jet, had hit the other tower, we started to realize this was no accident. I called my cousins in New York and…”
Or for those in the security profession, it’s akin to a version of this story, which I heard yesterday from a former FBI agent: “I remember what a crisp, beautiful day it was. We were in a training meeting with other agents near Washington, D.C., when everyone’s pager started buzzing.” As an industry of public safety and private security, we sprang to action -- from police who had to re-group to protect their cities, to transit security who evacuated their stations, to corporate security staff who had to lock down their own facilities. We snapped to action, to be ready for what could come next.
We were all touched, even if it wasn’t by the smoke or dust, or by a loss of family, friends or co-workers, and it’s what makes everyone in our nation remember exactly where they were that day when they heard. Standing in line at Starbuck’s. Watching the cameras at the guard office. Shaving in front of our mirrors. Reviewing business reports with the radio on in an office.
This weekend, on the 10th anniversary of those horrific attacks, we as a nation will talk about those experiences with our friends and family. We will all keep an eye on the TV, concerned about follow-up attacks from Al Qaeda operatives. But what, I wonder, is the real legacy of 9/11?
The legacy is painful memories for many, especially those who lost family and co-workers in the attacks. But for the rest of us, it’s a dull ache that we know our nation entered a long war on terror that won’t end in our lifetime. It’s knowing that we will never be the same happy-go-lucky nation with a “you can’t touch us” attitude. But legacies can change over time, and what I hope the legacy becomes is one of awareness and action. Just an hour ago, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano sent out this message that popped into my email:
“As we head into the 9/11 anniversary weekend, we continue to urge the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. Simply put, if you see something, say something. We take all threat reporting, including the recent specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information, seriously. We continue to be in close contact with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to ensure that all steps necessary to mitigate any threats are taken. Our security posture includes a number of measures both seen and unseen and we will continue to respond appropriately to protect the American people from an evolving threat picture both in the coming days and beyond. Homeland security is a shared responsibility, and everyone plays an important role in helping to keep our communities safe and secure.”
The way Napolitano puts it makes it sounds so simple, almost a simpleton’s approach to what we do in the face of terror threats. But it’s right, even though it’s simple. Accept this reality: We’re not going to be protected by some magical new technology (although they help), and we’re not going to be protected by some magical new department (although the DHS helps immensely). When it comes down to it, it’s going to be the involvement of you and me. It’s going to be us not thinking, “Oh some guy forgot his briefcase,” and instead thinking “That looks out of place, let’s call it in to make sure it’s just a forgotten case, and not an IED.”