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9/11 meant tightened security, more patriotism, in Harford

For those in Harford County who did not lose loved ones or were not otherwise immediately affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their immediate aftermath, the effect of 9/11 over the years may be hard to quantify.

Many Harford residents do in fact fall into the category as being immediately affected, however.

There were several local deaths from the attacks and in the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Countless others have had their lives turned upside down from military deployments to a shifting, security based defense community that has moved into the county.

For others in Harford, the impact of 9/11 a decade later may be more of a collection of small differences. A security change here. An increased worry there. A greater sense of urgency to carry a cell phone. Longer waits at the airport.

But whether the impacts have been big or small, those who live and work in Harford County say the terror attacks did change the fabric of life here, as they did throughout the nation.

The most visible change everywhere has been security, as Bob Thomas, spokesman for Harford County government, pointed out.

Terrorism worries meant the advent of concepts like "homeland security," while the county's relationship with its main military neighbor, Aberdeen Proving Ground, has changed profoundly, Thomas said.

"Certainly security has become foremost on everybody's minds, not only [for] law enforcement but government employees. There is much more interest in intelligence, and gathering of intelligence on those who wish to do government harm," he said.

Before 9/11, Thomas said, "it was nothing to carry a penknife into the courthouse. Nobody thought about that as an issue in the past. Today, it's a security issue. Buildings now, both business and government, have gone more and more to video cameras to track the safety of their occupants."

Changes at APG

The relationship between Aberdeen Proving Ground and the county is different now, and much of that is because the 2005 base realignment cycle, or BRAC, which has been largely driven by the heightened national security concerns following 9/11, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed 9/11.

BRAC, which is due to be completed next month, has brought in thousands of new residents, billions of dollars to the local economy and revamped facilities on the proving ground, as APG has changed from a major weapons testing installation to one that develops sophisticated, computer based warfare and national defense systems.

"For years, it was that military partner next door. Now, it's a major defense facility," Thomas said.

"You used to be able to go on the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and go and visit the museum. I took my son for scouting visits," he said. "Security measures have been greatly enhanced. Aberdeen Proving Ground is a very tight, secure area. That changed a way of life in Harford County."

New arrivals post-9/11

Some major defense contractors who have moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground in the whole post-9/11 BRAC realignment process, declined to discuss how they have been affected by 9/11.

A media spokeswoman at L-3 Communications said the company is not responding to interviews on the topic.

Others chose their own ways of addressing it.

CACI, which is at The GATE development on APG, published a special message from executive chairman Jack London and president and CEO Paul Cofoni, who noted the impact of the event on their employees.

"CACI employees were working at the Pentagon during the time of the attacks, and in the immediate aftermath, CACI people also supported critical State Department communications and played important roles in the evacuation of the Pentagon and the recovery in New York," the letter reads, highlighting how much of a role the tragedy continues to play in the direction of the company.

"As we consider CACI's own 50-year history, we dedicate ourselves to helping assure that another dark day like the one that occurred 10 years ago will never happen again. We also pledge to continue providing the highest quality services and solutions to our customers in defending, protecting, and securing this great nation," it said.

Expanding local security

The attacks gave law enforcement and government officials a new focus, as well.

"The government is part of the intelligence gathering effort," Thomas said. "The fire service has changed, the role of the fire service has changed after 9/11. They are training for weapons of mass destruction. Their response procedures and all that were altered based on what happened in New York and at the Pentagon."

Thomas said such concerns make sense for a prominent county like Harford, which in addition to APG, is home to the major interstate highway along the East Coast, major rail links, to heavily used bridges and one of the largest dams east of the Mississippi River.

"I think it's sad that we have had to implement all these safety and security procedures, but on the other hand, the world has changed, America has a lot of enemies, America has a lot of individuals that want to see us fail, that want to do us harm, and we have to be vigilant and we have to be prepared for that," he said.

"We have to realize we are on the [Interstate] 95 corridor, halfway between Washington [D.C.] and New York," he added. "It's not as if we are sitting in a cornfield in Iowa."

Besides the reality of increased security, the 9/11 attacks also gave people a greater sense of patriotism, Thomas said.

"You see people wearing and displaying our country's flag more. You see it on cars, you see it on the porches of individuals' homes. There's more celebrations on Flag Day. It seems to mean more. And overall, I think Americans, including the rank-and-file who live here in Harford County, realize that the world changed on 9/11, and life won't ever be the same after 9/11," he said.

Preparing for future emergencies

The 9/11 attacks shone a new light on the world of emergency management, as well.

Rick Ayers, of the Harford County Emergency Operations Center, said organizations like his got newfound respect, and even community colleges now have classes on the topic.

"I think before 9/11, there was very few universities or colleges anywhere, really, that [would] teach emergency management," he said. "Emergency management, I think, for years and years before 9/11, was viewed as an organization that dealt with responses to weather-related events and national disasters. That's pretty much what their role was."

The local EOC also became the recipient of significant U.S. Department of Homeland Security dollars after the attacks, as Harford was designated part of the federal Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI, along with six other Maryland counties or jurisdictions.

"A lot of funding for the hazmat has been funded through the homeland security grant, absolutely," Ayers said. "The emergency notification system that I use, we pay for that out of the state homeland security program … We didn't have a good notification system when 9/11 happened, and now we do have a good notification system, and we use it all the time."

In recent years, the poor economy seems to have dried up a lot of those homeland security funds, he said.

"This year it was a dramatic decrease. This year in our UASI state grant, we dropped almost 50 percent," Ayers said, adding he expects it to be at least as bad next year. "Instead of taking on new projects, we're just trying to support what we already bought, so we're really just trying to maintain the equipment we have."

More regional cooperation

The Harford EOC has also become much more interconnected with other similar agencies, Ayers said.

Before, "once in a while, Harford County might have a meeting in Baltimore City, but it wasn't a regular occurrence," he said. "Now we have monthly meetings with those other agencies and counties. We know each other now, we share resources now."

Ayers noted he has a good relationship with the local FBI officer.

"Since nothing major has happened in the country since 9/11 … I think it's more business-as-usual [for ordinary people], but for the emergency management people and law enforcement, we are constantly dealing with as far as what we buy and [prepare]," he said.

Schools feel impact

The Harford County Public Schools System has also seen both increased security and improved communication over the past 10 years, spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld said.

"I guess the biggest thing that came out is that each school has a critical incident plan that everyone has on file now and everyone is trained on," she said. "I think all these plans were in the works, [with] just the changing nature of our society. However, I believe 9/11 fast-forwarded this process and got us to a more secure place rather quickly."

Schools practice lockdown drills, instead of just evacuation drills, she said, and more cameras have been installed.

"All the new school construction has included an interior vestibule so the parents and visitors have to go directly into the main office. They have to register before they even enter the school building," she said.

When the A.A. Roberty Building opened in Bel Air in 2007, "they equipped the building to have an incident command center," Kranefeld said of the school system's administrative center. "Each school has an established safety committee that is made up of key stakeholders in the community, and they address safety concerns and [evaluate] the school's critical incident plan."

New federal homeland security standards also required the school system to develop a continuity-of-preparations plan, she said.

Getting information out is also now a top priority, she said.

"[With] the speed at which information travels now since 9/11, information gets out so quickly that we have to be on top of the incident to make sure parents get the information as quickly as possible," Kranefeld said.

The school system deployed its rapid notification system in 2006, and is now planning to offer an option of text messaging parents so parents can have more choice in how they get information, she said.

The school system is also now on Facebook and Twitter, another means of keeping the community informed about security and other issues as quickly as possible, Kranefeld noted.

"We are trying to reach the parents in as many ways as possible," she said. "We have definitely kept up with the rapid change in technology and communication as the years have gone by."

Military's role increases

The 9/11 attacks also affected the military in a less direct way. The Maryland National Guard, for example, was more affected as a result of the later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, said that organization did not immediately see an uptick in enlistment after the attacks.

The Guard has recruitment centers in Edgewood, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, although Kohler said he could not break down enlistment numbers from those centers.

"They were expecting an increase and we really didn't have a tremendous number of people joining after 9/11," he said. "What has happened over the years is, recruiting has gotten better, and a lot of factors went into that."

Nevertheless, "9/11 certainly had an impact and certainly the wars that have been ongoing have a tremendous impact," he said. "As a result of the conflict, we were getting more publicity, people were becoming more aware of it."

Hundreds of Harford County residents who were members of Maryland National Guard and various military reserves units have been called to active duty since 9/11. Many were deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, some for months and even years at a time.

And, significant numbers of those from Harford, or with ties to the county, who were called to serve did not return home alive.

On the bright side, Kohler noted the wars prompted many more benefits for those who do enlist.

"Simply going to Disney World, they give you a discount," he said about those who are now in the military. "People recognize the high-operational tempo that we have had since 9/11, and the American people are generally thankful for what we are doing."

In more recent years, Kohler said he thinks the depressed economy is also driving people into the military.

"As the economy gets worse, what happens is people want to leave the Guard and go active duty, and recently we have seen that. We have also implemented the jobs program to help retain our soldiers and help them find full-time employment," he said.

Support on the home front

One Fallston man, Bob Banker, who is with the Korean War Veterans Association, said he and other veterans showed their support of the military after 9/11 by holding a symbolic re-enlisting ceremony.

"It was all symbolic. None of us would qualify for anything," Banker said, recalling that about 200 veterans came to the event then. "They all showed up saying if they could re-enlist, they would."

Banker was in the Army from 1952 to 1953.

"Obviously, all the veterans felt strongly about it and wanted to help the country in a way," he said. "Everybody felt so strongly about wanting to connect with the idea of [restoring] our pride and symbolically it was a session of support of our troops, our military forces, for whatever they might have to do next."

Banker said his support for the troops remains as strong as it was after 9/11.

"The only thing that's changed is that it's 10 years later," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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