Attacks changed things here, too

Published 2:09 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten years after terrorists attacked America, flying planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the consequences of those events impact everyday life, even in Andalusia.

Two areas that have been significantly changed because of those attacks are law enforcement and aeronautics.

Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams said he believes law enforcement has experienced the most radical changes of any organization, primarily in how information is shared.

“The idea of exchanging intelligence or information between different law enforcement agencies was nothing new, but it never happened,” he said. “One agency would receive or uncover something, and they would sit on it rather than to share it. Many people look at information as ‘power,’ and a lot of agencies would hold onto everything.

“Today, some improvement has been made, and the bigger agencies and the federal agencies are now ‘pushing’ out a lot of intelligence,” he said.

The biggest change in smaller agencies such as APD was the availability of much-needed funding for specialized equipment and training, he said.

“We now have a fully-equipped search and rescue boat that has been instrumental in locating and recovering four drowning victims throughout South Alabama,” he said. “This has no relationship with terrorism, but it does offer our citizens a feeling of well-being in such incidents and gives them more confidence in our capabilities to respond to incidents affecting our citizens.”

The same can be said for the department’s dive team, which Homeland Security also funded.

“We’ve also been able to acquire various weapons systems that normally would not be feasible for an agency this size to provide us with capabilities far beyond what was available prior to Sept. 11,” he said. “Even though we don’t expect a foreign terrorist attack in our area, we now realize that ‘home-grown’ terrorists are viable threats to our way of life in rural areas.

“The advancements in dealing with hazardous materials are a daily threat to many of us in the first responder category,” he said. “How many truck loads of some really bad stuff pass through our city each and every day and what would we do if there was a severe accident? We never know when a commercial or possibly a military aircraft might decide to fall out of the sky. If this happens, we are far ahead of where we were in 2001 to deal with the aftermath of such a disaster.

“We not only have the equipment, both in the area of safety concerns for our first responders, but also the high-tech area to identify, document and retain items of evidentiary value for future court actions,” he said.

Jed Blackwell, co-manager of the South Alabama Regional Airport, said multiple changes have been made at the local airport because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“As a general aviation airport, SARA operates for all flights other than military and scheduled airline and regular cargo flights, both private and commercial,” he said. “The majority of the world’s air traffic falls into this category, and most of the world’s airports serve general aviation exclusively. Since Sept. 11, some changes have affected pilots and general aviation airports including background checks for certain flight training, a new airman certificate, advanced screening of pilot databases and restrictions for foreign pilots.

“Here, we have increased our security in many ways to ensure that safety and security is our top priority,” he said. “The airport will soon begin adding perimeter fencing around the 614 acres of airport property. In addition, there will be a keypad entry to enter the property. Video cameras have been added to flight line areas of the airport to help ensure airport safety.

“The Covington County Sheriff’s Department makes rounds periodically every night through the airport for airport security,” he said. “The airport fire department performs daily aircraft hangar, flight line and perimeter checks to ensure that all hangars and aircraft are locked and that there is no suspicious activity. All airport authority employees are now required to wear personal identification badges, and those are just a few of the changes that have been made at our airport as a result of that tragic day.”

Additionally, the state transportation department’s aeronautics bureau began requiring all licensed airports across Alabama to submit security plans, which must be updated every three years.

“Our motto is ‘You can never be too safe or secure,’ “ Blackwell said.”