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.
James Carr, CPP, CCIP, CFI, District Manager, Securitas Security Services USA
I was at the Pep Boys corporate headquarters in Philadelphia for a quarterly business review. I was a divisional director of LP at that time. I remember meeting in the boardroom with the operators when we were interrupted after the first tower had been hit. We quickly scrambled for the closest TV to witness the second tower being hit.
Since all the airports were closed, I had to figure out how to get home to my family in South Florida. I was able to purchase a train ticket from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach, but had to wait three days for a seat. The train took 36 hours, with not one empty seat. I was happy to be home.
Professionally, 9/11 changed everything immediately. What was once thought of as an unthinkable or highly unlikely event is now much more a reality. You have to assess the gaps in your program and develop initiatives and actions to mitigate your risks and protect your coworkers. In addition, you have to rethink just how vulnerable we all are when in public. Can I take my kids to the mall or a football game? Can I safely travel abroad?”
Paul Jones, LPC, Board of Directors, Loss Prevention Foundation
I was planning on taking the day off as we were in the process of moving from Florida to Ohio when my wife alerted me to the news of the first plane. After seeing the news, I headed to the office at Sunglass Hut. As vice president of loss prevention, I began our crisis management of the situation. We had several stores at the World Trade Center and were concerned about our associates. We later learned that everyone was safe. The Sunglass Hut stores and LP teams were a close-knit group, and everyone did an exceptional job through rough circumstances.
On a personal note, I remember that night I went to a store in Miami looking for an American flag, but had to visit several stores because they were selling out. I got a few flags and put two on my car. I remember thinking, “Why as a proud American didn’t I already have some flags?”
Over the next few days, we had a travel freeze and continued to prepare and plan for any unforeseen events. I remember the entire team, including our senior vice president of HR, watching the Mass at the National Cathedral. At the end of the mass when the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was sung, the entire team was in tears. It is still emotional now to think about it. At that moment, it was clear we were at war with an enemy that I didn’t know a lot about. I had a flight the day the travel ban was lifted, and I remember myself and a colleague had a plan in case anyone attempted to approach the cockpit, which seems pretty silly now, but we were on high alert.
The event has made me more aware of the entire issue around terrorism. I have read a bunch on it, was certified as CHS3 (certified homeland security), and I will never forget the sight of the folks falling from the towers and the firefighters running in. Whenever I travel abroad, I am on high alert of potential threats because of the fact I am an American.
I believe September 11 was pivotal in prompting loss prevention executives to take crisis management and physical security efforts to the next level. We had to learn on the fly to build programs for attacks like 9/11 and the anthrax letters, which most of us had little to no experience with.
Frank Johns, Chairman, Loss Prevention Foundation
I was vice president of global loss prevention for Office Depot on September 11. That event and others that followed dramatically changed the way we did business. The most important area of concern was physical security, looking for unusual activity at store level, including powder after the incidents of anthrax that came shortly after 9/11. It made my team become much more focused on a risk-avoidance strategy.
Personally, it became such a pain to fly that I began driving anyplace that was under five or six hours by car. Since then, 10 hours is even okay. From a loss prevention standpoint, 9/11 has made even the non-LP associates more cognizant of informing loss prevention of suspicious activity. Before, we were never aware of all of the incidents that were transpiring in the field. But after 9/11, everyone became aware, and informed loss prevention of any issues.
It also put a new emphasis on installing business continuity and crisis management plans within a company. Most companies had neither, but this tragedy put much more urgency on developing these strategies to protect customers, associates, and company assets.
John Selevitch, Director of Digital Operations, LPM
I was living in Los Angeles working as the divisional director of LP for Staples, so we were three hours behind the rest of the country that morning. Then, as now, I am a creature of habit. I would wake up at 5:30 a.m., make a pot of coffee, walk the dog, turn on the local news, jump in the shower, get dressed, and fight my way through LA traffic to my office in Santa Ana. I remember thinking as the TV came on around 6:00, seeing Katie Couric and Matt Lauer instead of my local news people, “This can’t be good.”
After that got my attention, I listened to Katie and Matt speculate how a “small plane” could have hit the north tower about 15 minutes earlier. Watching live video of the smoldering tower, I watched in absolute horror, as no doubt millions of others would, while what would later be identified as United Airlines Flight 175, slammed into the south tower. The rest of that day is a blur of phone calls, emails, news accounts, shock, and sadness.
From a work perspective, our first priority was to account for all traveling field personnel. After my own team, we went through other functions, including HR, regional vice presidents, district managers, and others. A process that should have taken 15 minutes max, took an agonizing three hours. Never again. Every position I have held since then always has a process in place to know who’s traveling and where.
From my own perspective, I have always felt thankful. The Staples corporate headquarters is located outside of Boston, and American Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, the first plane to hit the tower, was my flight of choice each time I headed home. It usually left late, as it did that morning, but it was seldom full, so I usually got upgraded. Thinking about that always leads me to remember one of the last instructions I gave that day. One of my regionals asked, “Is there anything else we should be doing, boss?” I said, “Yeah, hug your kids.”
Gene Smith, LPC, President, Loss Prevention Foundation (retired)
On the morning of September 11, I was in my office in Ohio, talking on the phone as usual. I do not recall whom I was talking to, but that person told me that they just heard that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. I hung up the phone, walked into the conference room, and turned on the television only to watch in awe as the second plane hit. Just before the second plane arrived, the rest of the staff and I were discussing that we hoped the first plane was an accident. When the second plane hit, we knew instantly it was no accident. I distinctly remember getting the feeling that what I was watching was something that was going to lead to something much larger than just two planes hitting the towers.
I remember wondering if the towers could survive such a direct hit and subsequent fire. I had flashbacks of having taken a dozen or more trips to the top to show visitors the observation deck. I remembered how tall they really were and how my young son had taken a picture looking straight up the tower front. At the time I thought that was a wasted photo, but now I cherish that picture more.
I also recalled how I had dinner once in the Windows of the World with my ADT national account reps, Bill Morris and Tony DeSefano. It was cloudy that day and we were above the clouds. I also remembered watching a helicopter fly by below us…then in absolute disbelief, I was brought back to reality when the first tower fell.
We were stunned! Then all we could say was “Oh my god!” It is one of those times you don’t want to believe is real. Similar to watching the news reports about President Kennedy’s assassination, all you could feel was shock and disbelief. I started thinking about how many people were on those planes and how many people were still in the tower, and then before my eyes the second one went down. All you could do was think of the thousands of families and how they were watching in horror as their loved ones were perishing before their eyes.
Since 9/11, I personally have become much more cautious when flying or when I am around large groups of people, like at sporting events. I spend more time trying to be more alert and with a “what if” attitude. Every time I travel, I think about how much more of a hassle it is now than before 9/11. I am always monitoring my surroundings and trying to be aware of suspicious people. I feel my personal freedom has been restricted. Going across the border to Canada and returning was like driving to another state. Now I feel instead of going to a good neighbor, I am truly going to a foreign country. Corporate America has become much more focused on the potential of a crisis or business interruption due to a terrorist attack. I remember doing bomb-threat planning in my days in retail loss prevention, but it was not near the extent that is done today. It has clearly become more important to every company in America. It even became a major part of our LP certification program.
This article was first published in 2016 and updated September 2021.