Reflect, remember, re-energize

Published 1:58 am Saturday, September 10, 2011


I am sure everyone can remember exactly where they were or what they were doing when they learned the World Trade Center had been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

I was a state trooper with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, but it just happened to be my day off. As I watched the news reports and the continued deluge of disturbing images, I thought to myself, “can this be happening here… in our homeland?” Then came the images of the Twin Towers falling, the Pentagon and eventually news of a downed plane in Shanksville, Penn. Soon, my pager went off. I was a squad leader of one of DPS’s Special Operations Units and we were being put on standby. It really sunk in at that moment; we just do not know how widespread this is. The eerie feeling in my stomach was replaced with anger and pride.

Yes, pride… I knew that first responders in New York and Washington, D.C., were rushing into these situations. Pride that I even wore a uniform or that I was in the same profession as these men and women. Later, we all learned of the heroic efforts of average Americans on Flight 93 that refused to die passively. It is this type of pride and patriotism that we need to reclaim.

Ten years have passed and much has changed in the world of public safety. For so long we thought that an attack of this magnitude was not possible, or we expected our military to handle international threats. Our servicemen and women are the finest in the world and their actions have toppled terrorist organizations around the world. However, it became obvious that first responders and particularly local law enforcement would now have to play a role in securing the homeland.

In the past 10 years, the U.S. government has stood up the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and all 50 states have implemented some type of state-level homeland security operation.

Over the past 10 years, we have realized that sharing information is paramount to keeping this nation safe. State and local involvement in intelligence sharing was unheard of 10 years ago. Today, it is a reality and a necessity.

In Alabama, we have created eight Regional Homeland Security Law Enforcement Teams that are multi-skilled and comprised of state, county, municipal and tribal law enforcement officers.

Additionally, we have created the Alabama Mutual Aid System which is comprised of 54 professional fire service agencies.

We have stood up a professional Fusion Center to gather and share information with local, federal and, when appropriate, private partners. Alabama’s DHS has also trained hundreds of law enforcement officers around the state in the strategies and techniques to engage an active shooter. We have accomplished a lot in a decade, but there are still ways to improve.

First, homeland security funding has to reach the state and local levels. As 9/11 demonstrated, it is always going to be the state and locals that are the first on the scene. At the state and local level, we must understand the necessity to prioritize based on risk.

Next, we must have the ability to communicate in an interoperable manner. Progress has been made, but we still are not there yet.

Finally, we must not and cannot become complacent. Alabama DHS has partnered with US DHS in its “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. We are encouraging citizens to be vigilant and observant, but most importantly, we are encouraging them to report suspicious activity.

So, let’s remember the events on 9/11 and give thanks to the first responders that gave all. Let us not forget the innocent victims of that day or the soldiers that have perished. Let’s use this anniversary as an opportunity to honor them by reclaiming that pride of being Americans we felt following 9/11 and by personally committing to doing everything we can to prevent this from ever happening again.

Spencer Collier is Alabama’s director of homeland security.