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9-11: Reflections, Regrets, and Resolutions

This piece is Part II of Security Management's 9-11 Anniversary Special Focus. In Part I we examined the evolving terrorist threat and the progress made in understanding and countering it. One of the architects of the Suspicious Activity Reporting program shares insights into its formation and expansion in Part III; and in Part IV, we review the prospects for the newest attempt at a trusted traveler program.

It was a beautiful day. ASIS International Secretary Richard E. Widup, Jr., CPP, remembers that well. In September 2001, Widup lived in Manhattan, not far from where he worked at the headquarters of Pfizer, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. When he left that morning to walk to work, Widup says his first thought was “‘Wow. It’s a beautiful day.’ You might have read that in newspapers, or heard it in TV sound bites, but boy was it gorgeous.” He pauses then adds, “I don’t ever say that anymore.”

What happened on the morning of September 11, 2001—now burned into the collective consciousness as “9-11”—changed Widup’s life and the lives of millions in the United States and around the world. As part of Security Management’s coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9-11 and its impact on security, we spoke to some of the members of the current ASIS Board of Directors, as well as to the Society’s president in 2001. Here are their recollections of the sunny day that took a dark turn, becoming a nightmare we still struggle with, as well as a look at how the attack changed workplaces and security’s role. ( Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.)

→ Bonnie S. Michelman, CPP | 2001 ASIS president and currently director of police, security, and outside services at Massachusetts General Hospital

I was in a meeting at work—it was actually a disaster committee meeting—and I was about to leave to go to Minneapolis to visit the ASIS chapter there, where I was going to be speaker for their meeting for that day. One of my staff came in and said, “There’s been a serious issue. You need to come now. The World Trade Center [WTC] has been hit.” My first thought was that it was an accident at the Boston World Trade Center.

After I went upstairs with my assistant, I said, “You need to get me my ride to the airport.” One of my other colleagues, who was watching the television replied, “I don’t think you’re going to Minnesota.” It was so surreal—I couldn’t quite get what it was all about—but then when the second plane hit, and we learned that two of the planes had flown out of Boston—it started to sink in that we needed to mobilize our staff.

We for the first time realized that the healthcare sector could be a target. It’s a microcosm of the city, particularly a healthcare organization like mine with 60,000 employees—25,000 at my own location in Boston. Right after the attacks, the FBI thought we had some employees with the same last names who might be related to the terrorists. It turned out not to be the case, but there were SWAT teams and FBI all over the place at one point.

My team did a very strong risk assessment to make sure we had the right infrastructure and support from appropriate agencies and that we had the right balance of technology, awareness, and staffing. I didn’t feel we needed to make a major transformation in our technology or procedures. We didn’t do any great metamorphosis, but we made sure we had extra uniformed officers visible in all the main entrance areas, but that was mostly to quell the emotional storm going on—just to calm people down. We increased perimeter coverage, added some undercover coverage, and looked at things like the HVAC system, for example, that might be vulnerable to sabotage. We worked closely with state and city agencies and started getting involved in citywide security meetings.

What I saw throughout the industry right after 9-11 was a tremendous amount of overreaction in corporations and industries. Security systems were added without proper design, security staffing levels doubled or tripled. I think people got a little carried away.

As president of ASIS, I remember the number of e-mails and calls that I received in the first 48 hours from members around the world—hundreds of them—saying “We’re with you,” “We feel for you,” “What can we do to help?” And I recall thinking that this was unbelievable and that the world is not as big as we’d believed.

The biggest issue for ASIS in the aftermath of 9-11 was that the [47th Annual ASIS] Seminar and Exhibits was to be held October 1-4 in San Antonio, Texas. There was a lot of commentary from people about whether or not we should cancel it. I never thought that we should, but there were a lot of people who did. Well, we held the Seminar and Exhibits, and we lost very few attendees—only about 10 percent, I think—if that much. We obviously changed the focus; we changed some speakers. The ASIS headquarters staff was unbelievably nimble at doing that. They were so amazing during that time. They helped me a lot.

What was amazing is the number of people who came up to me to thank ASIS for having the Seminar and Exhibits. They said they needed to get together with other security practitioners to strategize. And in San Antonio, when I was walking around, local people would ask if I was with the conference, and when I said I was, they would thank me. “Nobody has been here since 9-11,” they’d say, and they were grateful that we came and proved that life was going to go on. It was a humbling and amazing experience for me to be president of ASIS during this event that changed our nation and our industry.

In the aftermath of 9-11, there was a lot of crying out in ASIS for standards. What do we do? What are the right staffing levels? How much technology should we bring in?

The 9-11 attacks took place shortly after the ASIS Guidelines Commission was put together. We realized that had been a fortunate thing, and we ensured that the councils transformed their focus to what they needed to do to help with the process.

→ Raymond T. O’Hara, CPP | 2011 ASIS president and executive vice president of consulting and investigations at Andrews International

It was early—still dark. I was on my way to the San Diego airport when I heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I checked in and had my boarding card and was watching the news about the first plane when the second plane hit. I knew right then that it was a terrorist attack…so I took my boarding card, put it on the airline’s counter and walked out as quickly as I could. The worst place to be was at an airport, since planes were involved in the attack. I got back in the shuttle, went back to my car, and went home.

I was with Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations at the time. We had an office in New York City very close to the World Trade Center, so we were concerned about the people working in that office. It was hard to get communication through. When we did get through, we heard that one of our managers had run toward the Trade Center to help people. We finally found out later in the day that he was safe but had lost his mobile device somewhere in the rubble.

In the first days, life safety was the paramount issue because travel was shut down. So we were trying to ascertain where clients were and if they were safe while still trying to deal with the day-to-day issues. Later, there were a lot of companies trying to figure out what their next step was going to be, if their crisis management and business continuity plans were up to date—things like that. But many of these organizations were acting reactively. They wanted to do everything possible in a short amount of time—add barriers and card access and all kinds of things that need to be properly planned and vetted. But trying to get clients to stop and think was difficult. As more time went by, however, and it became clear what exactly had happened on 9-11 and what the likely targets were, people became more rational and strategic in thinking about what had to be done and when.

Certainly 9-11 gave the security industry more visibility, although the recent disaster in Japan has shown we really aren’t fully prepared. I think we reached a height and since have started to go back the other way. Backsliding is too strong a word, but like anything else, when it’s in your face, you deal with it, but as it fades, it becomes out of sight, out of mind.
We’re going to be acknowledging and reflecting on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 at the ASIS 57th Annual Seminar and Exhibits in Orlando this September. The aftermath of the attacks led to wars from which a large number of badly injured soldiers have returned home. ASIS has become involved in the Wounded Warrior Project to help them find work in the security industry, if they choose.