COLUMBIA — Ten years after 9/11, fury has ebbed, fear has subsided and shock has become memory. Americans have more safety and less freedom and are unsure whether that's a good thing.
These are the thoughts of four people the Missourian interviewed in 2006 and then again this week as the country looks back on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ("Our lives: Five years later," part one and part two)
Five years ago, people were counting on the new, improved security measures: airports checked photo IDs of pilots and banned pilots flying without radio instruction; police departments kept in close touch with the FBI; local governments introduced incident-management computer software and employed monitors trained in evacuation procedures.
All were intended to make people feel more secure.
And they succeeded, Randy Boehm, former chief of the Columbia Police Department, believes.
“I think we realized that (a terrorist attack) could happen again, but there’s some confidence in the fact that it has not," said Boehm, now manager of security for MU Health Care. "We know there have been attempts, and the law enforcement, the military, have been able to prevent that from occurring.”
People have had to waive some of their freedoms to be secure, Boehm said. “Sure, some of those things are inconvenient. But I think they’re necessary, and I think that most people understand that.”
But for some, the success of specific programs doesn't outweigh the cultural and societal impact and the loss of liberties.
John Gagliardi, a former Columbia flight instructor, recalled when the first metal detectors appeared in airports, after a couple of hijackings in the 1970s. And then there was Richard Reid, “the shoe bomber,” who on a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 tried to detonate a bomb built into his shoes. After that, shoes and people went separately through airport security checks.
In between those events, there was 9/11.
“For a year or two, I found myself a lot more worried, but since the time has passed, I don’t know if I am personally concerned. But I have a lot of concerns about the ongoing wars, the changes and loss of civil liberties,” said Gagliardi, who resigned as a flight instructor last spring and now works as a carpenter.
“As soon as the dam was broken, we needed to screen everybody as a possible terrorist,” he said. “There’s sort of a countrywide belief that if it’s for security, if it’s for safety, if it’s for some greater good, we can eliminate civil rights.”
Gagliardi was referring to people looking for jobs and having to undergo criminal background checks, credit checks and drug checks. Private industries, he said, have gone the way of government in a lack of respect for individual liberty.
He thinks that because people have to go through such scrutiny, their fears persist, as if a “systemic shift in the mindset of Americans” has happened after 9/11.
Even with all the security measures instituted in the past decade, events such as 9/11 or natural disasters such as the Joplin tornado are impossible to fully predict and prevent, said Tony St. Romaine, Columbia assistant city manager. “All you could do is really be prepared for the aftermath,” he said.
Still, officials meet on a regular basis with emergency planning and public safety agencies in Columbia and Boone County, as well as with state emergency management officials, to continually update emergency operations.
Although they don’t want to go as far as installing metal detectors in the Columbia City Council chambers, St. Romaine said, they do try to be on the lookout for potential threats. Police protect council meetings, watching out for people who look suspicious.
But so did the city council of Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb, where a man shot five people in 2008 at a council meeting. The first one shot was the officer there to protect the meeting.
“You can have all those types of plans in place, and if somebody’s intent on doing somebody harm, there’s really not much you can do about it,” St. Romaine said. What the harsh security measures sometimes do is aggravate “the normal peace-loving traveler” rather than deter future terrorist attacks.
The only thing people can do is realize they live in a different world, remain vigilant and not take anything for granted, said Tony Spicci, a program supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Spicci was one of the members of Missouri Task Force 1, an urban search-and-rescue team that went to New York City the day after the attacks. He mapped the World Trade Center site to identify possible pockets where people might have been trapped.
On each of the 11 days he spent there, the search-and-rescue teams walked from the place they parked their vehicles to the World Trade Center site. Along this walk, there were always lines of people cheering the rescuers, holding up signs and handing out water and food.
“It proved that when things are as bad as they can be in this country, people are always willing to step up and rally around each other and help each other,” Spicci said.
Spicci likes to think about 9/11 as an isolated event that doesn’t reflect humanity as a whole.
“The harder people try in the world to do good things, there’s always one or two people that are not going to have that same attitude. There’s always going to be one or two people that are willing to do harm," he said. "It’s unfortunate.”