How 9-11 changed Demopolis, Marengo County

Published 9:43 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seven years ago today, the United States was attacked by members of the terrorist group al-Qaida who hijacked four civilian passenger airplanes.

One hit each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another was forced down in Pennsylvania when passengers overtook the cockpit. Just over 3,000 people died in the attacks, including 2,627 in the World Trade Center and 125 in the Pentagon.

Since that day, the way we treat emergency situations across the country has changed drastically.

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“First and foremost, the greatest change since then has been the creation of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Marengo County Emergency Management Agency director Kevin McKinney. “It didn’t even exist prior to that. Now, we have to stay up-to-date not only with EMA regulations, but Homeland Security regulations as well.”

Police and fire departments as well as the EMA have all changed the way they respond to emergencies.

“The biggest difference would be in incident command,” McKinney said, “learning how the agencies communicate with each other at an incident and establishing communication. Before, it was just the fire department doing fire department stuff and the police department doing police department stuff. Now, it takes all three disciplines.

“Also, the increase in funding has allowed our agencies to purchase newer, more modern equipment. That has helped in preparation not only for terrorism situations but in local daily incidents as they come up.”

“There have been a lot of grants toward fire services to equip themselves,” said Demopolis Fire Chief Ronnie Few. “They realize that we (emergency personnel) are the first line of defense a lot of times, whether it is a fire department matter or a police matter.”

Few mentioned that the fire department was going to receive hazardous material training.

“This will not only be a city haz-mat team, but a regional team through the state of Alabama,” he said. “That should be in place sometime in the next six months.”

Few related his experiences from working in a larger city.

“In larger cities, we had the anthrax scare,” he said. “Also, we were more careful about boxes in buildings that weren’t usually there. We had to be more receptive to the people working in the buildings because they knew which things were out of place.

“We found how vulnerable we really were. We find now that people are placing secondary incendiary devices, knowing that emergency personnel would respond to the first device. We don’t just rush in like we used to; we make sure we know what we’re getting into.”

The Sept. 11 attacks have not only changed the way emergency responders do their jobs, but changes can also be seen in everyday life. For example, airport security has seen a great increase in security and safety over the last seven years.

“We always ask the public that if they see a box that doesn’t have an address or anything else unusual to call the fire department or 911,” Few said. “People also need to stay aware of their surroundings. If they see something out of the ordinary, call 911. We don’t care if it is a well-intentioned call that turns out to be nothing. Our job is to make sure you’re safe.”

The fire department will have a brief service in honor of those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attack today, beginning at 8:45 a.m. at Fire Station No. 1 on U.S. Highway 80 East. The station bells and sirens will be activated at 8:59, the time of the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The attack of Sept. 11, 2001, on American soil has shaken us as a nation and shown us our vulnerabilities in security and safety. There are a select few days that will remain forever etched in the nation’s memory. That date — now known simply as “9-11” — is certainly among them.