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Crisis Response: Reflecting on 9/11

Sep 23, 2021

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This was memorialized in a number of ways in the United States on September 11, from sporting events to media programming. There was a plethora of documentaries on television, addressing the topic from seemingly every aspect. Considering the event, it is no wonder. People who lived through it remember where they were the moment when they heard the news. It resonated throughout the United States and beyond. The vast amount of video footage and the vast number of stories that emerged from that day provided people with a lot to digest. It also touched them, leading to an outpouring of sympathy and support for those affected.

Of course, this translated into the subsequent political and military efforts of the United States, which were supported by NATO and non-NATO allies. Without question, these left a lasting mark on world affairs. Yet as recent events in Afghanistan have shown, these efforts have had a limited shelf life.

Yet in reflecting on the events of 9/11, one can see that these have had a more persistent legacy. On that day, well before political and military strategies could be formulated, there was a more immediate response to the attacks. Video footage from the scenes showed fire, police, and other first response personnel racing to the scene to provide comfort, mitigate the damage, and save lives. Stories abound of rescue and sacrifice, of heroic people who risked and, in some cases, gave their lives in an effort to help others.

Out of this emergency personnel emerged as heroic figures in the public eye, reaching a level usually reserved for those who serve in the military. In the days after 9/11, surviving responders were feted in the U.S. Congress, at sporting events, and in events across the country. Suddenly, celebrations such as parades and festivals would feature recognition of the service of first responders through such things as moments of silence, and businesses would offer them special discounts on goods and services. Far from a momentary sentiment, these have proven remarkably persistent, remaining in place to this day. In sum, first responders have become members of the proverbial pantheon of national heroes. With the recent COVID pandemic, more may be joining the ranks, notably in the form of nurses, who are being recognized for their work on the “front lines” against the pandemic. These professions associated with emergency management have never enjoyed a greater standing with the public.

Yet this can hardly be seen as the pinnacle; rather, this should be seen as a launching point for fostering a greater appreciation for emergency response as a whole. Those who now stand as heroes in the public eye can use their position to encourage public awareness of and support for the larger field, its issues, and its initiatives (e.g. in such matters as resilience). Moreover, while the events of 9/11 are the best-known example of emergency response in a global sense (again, in light of coverage and implications), it is still somewhat specific to the American experience. For those in the rest of the world, there are events, even of a daily or routine nature, which are “closer to home” that should be highlighted to generate a similar appreciation for the work in the field. (Along these lines, CBI has been a partner in a series of webinars featuring emergency management in nations from around the world, which has been an enriching experience. A list of this may be found here.) Ultimately, such appreciation would further honor the legacy of those who responded to those terrible events twenty years ago.