Sept. 11 attacks left lasting impression on securityThe days and weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no doubt held many questions for most of the country.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
The days and weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no doubt held many questions for most of the country.
“Once it was determined what had happened, there was a feeling of ‘What could happen next?’” Red Wing Police Chief Tim Sletten said.
Closely following the attacks, law enforcement and the public were on edge, Sheriff Scott McNurlin said.
“There was a hypervigilance going on, not only with law enforcement but also with the public,” he said. The department was inundated with calls, as well as with information and reports from other agencies.
That flow of information has eased somewhat since then, he said. But the attacks left a permanent mark on security and emergency preparedness.
The events led local agencies and law enforcement to evaluate security measures and improve communication and planning.
After the attacks, state and federal agencies started identifying other potential targets, including railways, dams and nuclear power plants — all of which exist near Red Wing — McNurlin said.
“It caused us to look differently at how we were going to protect those assets,” McNurlin said. He was chief deputy at the time under Sheriff Dean Albers. “It changed our world pretty dramatically overnight.”
Prairie Island nuclear plant responded similarly to those across the country immediately following the attacks, including restricting access to their facilities, putting up barriers to keep cars away from the buildings and “looking for things that are out of the norm,” said Mark Schimmel, Prairie Island site vice president. He was working at a different plant in 2001 but said many of the responses were the same.
Since then, the nuclear power industry added thousands of security officers across the nation, and at plants, barriers and more sophisticated security equipment were installed. Officials also developed more coordinated emergency response plans with local, state and federal law enforcement, he said.
Security to get into the plant also changed. Those wanting to come in the plants always had screenings and background checks, but now approval is more limited.
“It isn’t as open a facility as it used to be,” Schimmel said.
The attacks also highlighted the importance of communication among law enforcement agencies, both local and nationally, officials said.
“We’re probably working much closer together and better together,” Sletten said of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as private entities such as Xcel Energy.
“Communication really improved,” he said. “That was clearly a gap that we had in our emergency response.”
Training changed both for law enforcement and Prairie Island staff also has shifted.
“We always trained and planned for things that could occur,” McNurlin said. “But the scope of 9/11 probably changed the way we trained and what we looked at as potential issues.”
Training for those at nuclear power plants continues to evolve as new threats or protection measures are found, Schimmel said. And drills testing responses during such situations are run regularly.
“As the industry is continuing to conduct these drills and as they learn new things, the industry incorporates them,” he said. “There are a lot of changes as a result of these drills, and I find that encouraging.”
While plans were in place for protecting assets such as the nuclear plant, the attacks highlighted the importance.
“It just re-emphasized and brought to our attention that we need to be more vigilant,” Sletten said.
And the heightened awareness likely will never disappear completely.
“We have one foot still in the security business, so to speak,” McNurlin said. “And we’re probably not going got let that go in the near future.”