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.
Mark Stinde, MBA, LPC, Vice President of Asset Protection, Kroger
I was divisional director of loss prevention for the Northeast division of The Home Depot in South Plainfield, New Jersey, a little more than 30 miles from the twin towers. I was walking down the hallway when someone stepped out of the gym in our office to inform us that a plane had just struck one of the towers. We watched the TV in the gym as the second plane hit. The next several days were difficult, as many of our associates were directly impacted, several suffering the loss of either friends or family members. Home Depot immediately stepped up and supported the recovery efforts in both New York and DC.
All of us were impacted by those events both personally and professionally. I have personally become more cautious and aware. On a positive note, the events reminded me of how precious life is and how uncertain things really are. 9/11 also made me realize how proud I am to be a part of this great country and proud of those unselfish people who put themselves at risk to protect all of us every day.
There have been several changes in how loss prevention and corporate security executives address risk because of 9/11. There is an overall heightened sense of security in our day-to-day operations. From mailroom procedures and access controls to a more formalized approach to disaster recovery and preparedness, all of us in retail loss prevention have become much more vigilant.
Melissa Mitchell, CFI, LPC, Director of Asset Protection, MAPCO Express
I was in a meeting with a vendor who had flown in to meet with me. My administrative assistant opened the door and insisted that I step outside. I didn’t really take a good look at her just then, as I was irritated that she had interrupted the meeting. I asked her if it could wait, but when she answered, I could hear her voice rise a bit. When I got outside the door, she looked panicked and started saying something about a news alert on TV and how terrible it was. My first thought was that there was a gun in the kids’ school. Finally, she got the words together to say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and she thought we were at war. I actually laughed. I told her that this was probably a Cessna or other small plane, and, yes, it was sad, but not an act of war. She had a death grip on my arm and insisted that I go around to an office where there was a TV. As we rounded the corner, I saw the news broadcast at the moment the second plane hit. I remember thinking that it looked so graceful. A fellow US Air Force veteran was standing next to me. We looked at each other and said “Bin Laden” almost at the same time. To this day I have no idea what made me think that. Had you asked me about the first Trade Center bombing, I would have been unable to name him as the suspected mastermind.
I went back and told the vendor what had happened. We just sat in my office for a while, until we heard another commotion in the hallway. Someone came in and said that a plane had hit the Pentagon. I called my husband, who was also Air Force, to try to figure out which of our friends were stationed there at that time. We later learned that a friend had been killed in the towers.
Although I am a veteran, my military service was during a time when we were not at war. We have a close friend who enlisted immediately following, and because of, 9/11. I tried to talk him out of his decision because of my own selfish fear that he would be killed. He asked my husband and me to honestly tell him that, were we in the same position young, unmarried, with no dependents would we not do the same thing? He ultimately did two tours in Afghanistan and a tour in Iraq. I thought I had a profound respect for the military because I had served my country, and I knew what a great military we have. I realize now that I knew nothing about respect for our soldiers until I saw my friend risk his life serving his country.
Because of 9/11, we now acknowledge that we live in a world where bad things happen, even on our own soil. We understand that we have to have partnerships across federal, state, local, and other private sectors because we succeed or fail as a country, not as separate entities. We have become deliberate and intentional about learning how we can protect our employees and our companies in this changing landscape. We no longer operate under the misconception that there is really no re-inventing the wheel in loss prevention.
Mike Lamb, LPC, Vice President of Asset Protection, Kroger (retired)
I was in my office at our Atlanta-based Home Depot Store Support Center and first became aware when a TV news report indicated that a plane had apparently struck one of the towers. Simultaneously, my wife was in New York City on a business trip and was just exiting a cab at the base of one of the towers. She phoned me to ask what was going on and could I obtain more information on specifics. I watched in horror as seconds later, it was reported a second plane had struck the other tower. I cannot explain the fear upon realizing this was a planned terrorist attack. I immediately told my wife to hail the next available taxi and get out of there. Fortunately, she was able to make it back to JFK airport, but, of course, all air travel was immediately discontinued. I’ll also never forget how my fellow associates came to her aid and escorted her out of the area, where she remained for a week before she could make it back to Atlanta.
Personally, it was a shocking reality of how as a nation we are vulnerable to these types of horrific acts of terrorism and an ‘innocence lost’ feeling that will forever exist. Professionally, it was a sobering reminder of how both in the public and private sector, much work needed to be done. There has been enormous change for our industry simply based on the notion that an event like this one should never again be repeated. Hopefully, this tragedy will serve as a constant reminder for all us.”
Bill Turner, LPC, Treasurer and Executive Committee Member, Loss Prevention Foundation (retired)
I was sitting in my office at Walt Disney World in Florida. As VP of guest operations services, I was in charge of six operating divisions, one of them being security. We were without a director of security at the time so I had temporarily moved my office to the security complex, which also included the Communications Center and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the Florida property (42 square miles). I was about to begin my 9:00 a.m. weekly staff meeting when my senior security manager walked in, turned on the TV, and said, “Something is going on in New York.” We went into the EOC where we had seven TV feeds and, as the directors gathered for our meeting, we watched the second plane hit. I immediately activated the EOC, and the calls were made. All members showed up within a half hour.
Besides trying to figure out what was going on like everyone else, we were now faced with what to do with 55,000 employees and upwards of 250,000 guests on the property. The Magic Kingdom allowed early admission, so there were already guests in the park. When all of the EOC members were assembled, we made the decision to close the Magic Kingdom and keep all other parks, water parks, and public venues closed. So now, what do you do with all of the guests occupying 22,000 hotel rooms with nowhere to go? The list of issues to deal with was mindboggling communication internally and externally; how to keep guests entertained; how to accommodate guests who were preparing to fly out, but now could not; whether or not to open on September 12; what did safety and security need to look like going forward, both immediately and in the future; what would happen to our business as a travel destination; how can we reassure the public that we are a safe place to visit; and a myriad of other issues. Needless to say, nobody left the EOC for almost 36 hours.
Obviously, our experiences and challenges were a bit different than a typical retail store, although there were close to 500 retail locations on the property. But a lot of the issues would be similar to those of a large, regional mall. The subjects of awareness, preparedness, and action plans around terrorism are now major parts of most retailers’ crisis plans where they virtually didn’t exist before. In the case of Walt Disney World and the Disney organization in general, physical security and crisis planning, while very good before, are world class today.
Gary Johnson, CPP, Director of Asset Protection & Safety, Guitar Center
September 11, 2001, started off as a great day…cool, dry air, perfect blue sky, sunny. For some reason I was running late, but otherwise the commute into New York City was routine. That is, until I passed the Statue of Liberty, approaching Manhattan. I could see smoke high in the sky coming from the World Trade Center. Radio stations began reporting sightings of a small aircraft hitting the north tower. Shortly after 9:00, as I headed toward the Holland Tunnel, I could see the towers, the smoke, and then suddenly, I saw a commercial airplane emerge through the smoke. Flying at an extremely low altitude, the airliner banked and slammed directly into the south tower.
I knew instantly that this was no accident. The Holland Tunnel was immediately closed and cars were rerouted. Office workers evacuated buildings and ran into traffic. Chaos broke out and no one was getting through that tunnel into Manhattan.
Cell phone service was intermittent initially. Fortunately, I was able to reach Sara Mays, our regional LP manager, who lived in the city. [I was director of loss prevention for Barnes & Noble at the time.] She was already at the office and took the lead on administering our emergency plans and providing updates to our leadership.
The ability to maintain communication was considered a key failure in the 9/11 attack. As I was navigating my way back to my home office in New Jersey, I was able to reach our travel agency and identify the various associates who were flying that day. Thank goodness, we had no one on any of the hijacked planes.
We did have numerous folks traveling that day. We took steps to notify the families of our business travelers to let them know their loved ones were safe. Being outside the city with access to a landline enabled us to reach everyone.
Then I received a frantic call that I never expected. Unbeknownst to me, my brother-in-law, who lived in Texas, was in the city for an appointment with a client at the World Trade Center. He was in the midst of mass chaos as everyone in lower Manhattan was trying to get out of the city. With bridges closed, tunnels closed, roadways closed or restricted, even the savviest New Yorker could not find a way out. After miles of walking and hours of waiting, he ultimately was able to get on a ferry to cross the Hudson. He then got on the first, albeit overloaded, commuter train westward to a destination where I could then drive him the remaining 20 miles to my home. As he got off the train, he had to be cleared by the medical and hazardous-materials team at makeshift treatment centers set up in the train station parking lot.
The sentiment I most remember thinking was, “This changes everything. America is under attack.”
This article was first published in 2016 at updated in September 2021.