How have we changed?
Published 11:25 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the face of the U.S. For the first time since the invasion of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Americans faced an attack by a foreign adversary on domestic soil.
As a result of the attack, security measures and other safety procedures were beefed up across the nation. Covington County was no exception, as several government and domestic agencies have seen changes to the way they conduct business.
Jed Blackwell, administrator of South Alabama Regional Airport, said Sept. 11, 2001, has caused changes in security at the local airport.
“The obvious difference is the major security upgrades among commercial airports, [South Alabama Regional Airport is] a general aviation airport,” Blackwell said. “The main effect is the implement of a full fledged airport security plan, which is a requirement from the Alabama Aeronautics Bureau.”
Blackwell said the new requirements also include increased attention to aircraft contained within the airport’s various hangars.
“We are required to perform daily checks on hangars that have civilian aircrafts to ensure the hangar doors are secure, the plane itself is locked and that there are no keys left inside the aircraft,” he said.
Blackwell said the measures also mandate that all gates, not just entrances to fuel sources, be locked and checked at various points through the day.
“We are also required to utilize employee badges for the airport and airport tenants,” Blackwell said. “This plan must be approved yearly by the state bureau and we must also develop a plan for the following year. Next year, we are working to obtain a grant that will allow us to install perimeter fencing for the facility. It may not be next year or the year after, but we are applying for the grant to fund the project.”
The South Alabama Regional Airport is also subject to quarterly inspections by the Transportation Security Administration of Mobile.
“TSA sends an inspector quarterly to check the security of our facility,” he said. “The inspector reviews the aircraft that frequently use the airport, the certified flight instructors, which we currently have two CFIs, and who the instructors are training to fly.”
Blackwell said the most recent major change to general aviation airports has been the creation of a toll free number that allows the public to report suspicious activity.
“The TSA has implemented a toll free number, which is 1-800-GASECURE,” Blackwell said. “Any suspicious activity concerning a general aviation airport should be reported to this number. Calls will automatically go to the Covington County E-911 office and then be transferred to Federal Aviation Administration.”
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the anthrax scare that same year, have changed the way the U.S. Postal Service goes about its business.
A spokesman for the Andalusia Post Office said that one of the main changes in today’s postal service is heightened security concerning mailed packages. All packages weighing more than 13 ounces bearing only postage stamps as postage must be presented to an employee at a retail service counter at a post office. Any package weighing more than 13 ounces that is placed in a collection box or lobby drop will be returned immediately to the sender.
In addition, mail carriers are now required to lock the doors of their trucks anytime they exit the vehicle, even if it is just to hand-deliver a piece of mail.
Finally, USPS workers are now required to contact a postal inspector if they discover any suspicious substances coming out of pieces of mail.
No new standard operating procedures were created for local emergency response agencies following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but seldom used procedures received extra attention and additional emphasis in training.
Andalusia Fire Chief Ethan Dorsey said firemen already possessed the training and equipment necessary to deal with large-scale emergency situations and domestic or foreign terrorists attacks.
“You always hear people talking about new guidelines and creating new standard operating procedures, but the guidelines are really already there,” he said. “We have always had HAZMAT (hazardous material) gear and things of that nature.”
Dorsey said that the fire department handles each call individually and has a wide range of equipment and training that can be customized to handle any situation.
“We never know what we might face from day to day,” he said. “We simply wait for the call to come in and we load whatever equipment we may need to handle the situation.
“Sometimes we might receive a call of a brush fire and arrive on scene to find a large structure fire,” he added. “In those cases we have to regroup and possibly obtain different equipment to properly combat the fire.”
Dorsey said the biggest change has been the availability of certain supplies.
“We can more easily obtain items from Homeland Security now,” he said. “I guess you can say they have become more user friendly since the events of 9/11.”
Kristi Stamnes, director of the Emergency Management Agency, said the EMA’s procedure for handling reports of suspicious packages has changed.
“For us, suspicious packages are treated with higher alertness,” she said. “Before we would simply pick up the package and inspect it to determine its origin. We now have a more strict protocol that requires us to contact state agencies when we receive any report of a suspicious package.
“We are more cautious of how we approach things and how we release information as far as through various media,” she added. “Some pieces of information, which may have been considered safe to print in the newspaper or announce of the radio, have become more guarded.”
Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams said additional equipment has been added to increase the department’s ability to combat both domestic and foreign terrorist threats.
“Since the attacks occurred we have all tried to be more vigilant and watchful,” Williams said. “Domestic terrorism is just as dangerous as foreign terrorism.
“We have extensive equipment stationed at the Houston County Sheriff’s Department in Dothan that we have access to if needed,” he added. “All of my officers have a first response ensemble that includes a mask, protective suit, gloves and boots.”
Andalusia High School principal Dr. Daniel Shakespeare said the events of Sept. 11 changed schools’ diligence to the outside world.
“I think it has given us an awareness that something can happen at any time, and it has made us more safety conscious,” he said.
Shakespeare explained that since Sept. 11, the State Board of Education has implemented school improvement plans that address any emergency situations such as a terrorist attack.