Twenty years ago, the events of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, horrified the nation and set into motion the US War on Terror. Here are some perspectives and memories from loss prevention executives about the attacks.
Jim Lee, LPC, Executive Editor of LP Magazine
I was driving from Austin, Texas, to Houston. Looking for a sports talk show, I could only find a news station on the radio. I heard the announcement that a small plane had crashed into the tower. I thought, how strange to let a small plane get so close to the towers. In a matter of minutes, I heard that another plane had crashed into the second tower and that it was, in fact, a large airliner as was the first plane. Upon arriving at Stage Stores headquarters in Houston, Lee Bland, then director of LP, took me straight into the cafeteria where large televisions were set up. Most of the employees were gathered in silence watching.
I was shocked, stunned, and angry. I placed three phone calls to make sure none of my close friends in Boston were flying that day. Like so many people, I now faced the ordeal of getting home. I was over a thousand miles from home with no airlines flying in the next few days. I drove back on the 12th and arrived on the 13th. Upon checking in the rental car, I was surprised to learn that someone else had just driven into Charlotte from Los Angeles.
I recall driving back home to Charlotte thinking about the Kennedy assassination. I was in high school at the time. It was a similar feeling of fear for our country, sadness, and grief for so many people.
One of the positive things I take from this tragic event is I came to know Bobby Senn of the Fire Department of New York City. He was there and lived through it, although many of his friends and fellow firefighters did not. He, along with so many others, are my heroes.
Keith White, LPC, Chief of Safety and Security, Salesforce.com
My memories of that day are burned into my memory bank. I remember having an early breakfast with my wife when the first plane hit the trade center and the news broke on TV. It was such an unbelievable day that everything slowed down and the mere shock and audacity of the event was paralyzing. I remember making decisions about closing stores and getting traveling executives back home that would have been a big deal under any other circumstance, but on this day they seemed small and routine because they paled in comparison to the people who were directly impacted in New York.
Personally and professionally I grew tremendously that day, and I think our country did as well. The innocence we had as a country was lost, and the confidence I had as a leader was shaken. This event was bigger than anything any of us had seen previously or, I would argue, since. However, I do think I’m better, stronger, more careful, and much more thoughtful when it comes to devising and providing protection strategies in my professional and personal life.
Since 9/11 at Gap Inc. (where he worked at the time), we ultimately integrated corporate security, loss prevention, and business continuity planning into one organization, which I think was brilliant. The synergies you get from all three organizations combined with the capability of scaling our response has served us well.
Tina Sellers, LPC, Vice President of Asset Protection, Rite Aid
I was just about to leave the house to go to work when they cut in on Good Morning America to show the first plane crashing into the tower. Beyond thinking about the poor people inside, I just assumed it was an accident. Then the second plane crashed, and I told my husband I’d be late coming home that night. I spent the day on the phone trying to locate my New York regional LP manager and all of our district managers, as well as tracking how close our stores were to Ground Zero and the Pentagon. I was three months pregnant at the time and remember thinking that the world would be a very different place in my son’s childhood than it had been in mine.
Air travel became cumbersome and much more time consuming in the first months after 9/11 and has continued to be a very different experience than what it was prior to that event. But the major impact of 9/11 was that, I believe, it was the trigger that began the evolution to real corporate security. Our profession is more respected and our opinions more sought after now than they were prior to that day. There was a definite shift in focus, as well as in budget allocation, from traditional shrink-reduction programs to true asset protection measures.
Lisa LaBruno, Esq. Senior EVP Retail Operations & Innovation at Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)
I remember driving into work on an absolutely gorgeous day with the clearest blue sky I had ever seen. I was listening to the radio when they broke in with a special report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At that point I thought it was “just” a small, private plane. I arrived at my office a few minutes later, and several of my colleagues were inside my office looking out my window at the World Trade Center in the distance. I called my husband, who was a police officer, and as I was looking out the window, I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember screaming at my husband that a second plane hit, and the phone going dead. Panic sunk in at that moment. My colleagues and I watched out the window in horror as the buildings fell, one by one. I worked for the Archdiocese of Newark at the time, which is the largest Catholic diocese in New Jersey. The archbishop, bishop, priests, and nuns worked out of our building, so the natural reaction was to gather together and pray, which is what we did.
I remember leaving my office and driving directly to my parents’ house. Despite the fact that I was a grown woman living on my own, I felt a strong need to be with my family, in the “protection” of my parents. As I drove, every fire station’s doors were open, sirens were wailing. I remember lying on my parents’ couch that night looking through the skylight in the ceiling and worrying about other planes falling from the sky. I remember gathering at the home of a police officer’s wife with other wives and girlfriends and waiting for our husbands and boyfriends to return from New York where they were helping in what was still a search-and-rescue effort. I remember these strong, “nothing can get the best of me” guys walking into the house after a day of digging in the rubble, full of soot from head to toe, and defeated; they had not rescued a single person alive.
I was scheduled to fly to Atlanta on September 12th for an interview at The Home Depot. My flight was canceled. Before 9/11, I wasn’t inclined to move to Atlanta, but I wanted to proceed with the interview anyway. After 9/11, I was ready to leave New Jersey. I got the job at The Home Depot, moved to Atlanta, and started my career in the retail industry.
Retailers are much more keenly focused on incident preparedness and response now because of 9/11. Enhancing their internal plans and collaborating with the public sectors on ways in which retailers can help in recovery efforts is now much more common.
Dan Faketty, Vice President of Loss Prevention, Southeastern Grocers
I was in my office when the first plane hit the tower. Shortly after that, I was advised that a second plane had hit, at which time I reported to the board room to view the events on TV. When the plane hit the Pentagon, the problem became personal for me and my company at the time, Harris Teeter, as we had a store in Pentagon City that was located directly across the street from the Pentagon. During the remainder of the day and night, associates from that store were running to the grounds of the Pentagon with shopping carts filled with water, bandages, dressings, and anything they could pull from store shelves in order to assist.
Both my personal and professional life took on a new importance. Above and beyond the enhancements to airport security, I cannot fly today without paying particular attention to those around me. This is especially true if anyone leaves a bag unattended, even for a minute or two. From a professional standpoint, things changed almost immediately, as I was part of a team of LP executives put together by Chuck Miller, then vice president of loss prevention (now retired) from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). Miller and the team began developing recommendations on increasing security for food processors, distributors, and retailers.
Another outcome of 9/11 was it helped many LP executives convince senior management to the need for capital investment in upgraded physical security equipment. It also helped some justify the need for additional staffing, which some struggled with prior to 9/11.
This article was first published in 2016 and updated September 2021.