As the nation commemorates the 10th anniversary of 9/11, several top officials in Laurel not only recall that pivotal day, they also point to security measures that were put in place in response to it.
Martin Flemion, the city's deputy administrator and emergency services director, said he wasn't in Laurel on 9/11 but was in Carey, Ohio. His wife's family has a dairy farm there, and he had gone to watch their livestock compete at the county fair.
"We were in the judging compound when the competition was interrupted to say a plane had flown into the (World Trade Center's) towers, which we thought was an accident," Flemion said. "When we got back to the farm, we heard of the other planes, and I made calls back here to find out how people were doing. The lines were maxed out, so it took a while to get through."
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Flemion cut his vacation short and drove back to Laurel.
"What struck me on the way back was when we got to I-64, in West Virginia, all of the bridges were decorated with American flags," he said.
At the time, Flemion was the public works director, but shortly after Mayor Craig Moe took office in 2002, Flemion became the deputy administrator and was put in charge of emergency services operations as the city management worked to develop a response plan that went beyond weather-related incidents.
"The mayor wanted to revamp our response plan, so the emergency management division was created, and its emphasis was emergency preparation and coordination to handle events such as a 9/11," Flemion said.
Moe said he made emergency management one of his top priorities when he came into office a year after 9/11.
"I believed we had to get our community ready for any foreseeable event," Moe said. "Some things were done when I came in, but I wanted to open up communications (between agencies) so we'd have things in place to come together quickly for whatever incident that might happen."
When the 9/11 attacks occurred, Moe said he was working in his office as Maryland's assistant secretary of state and initially thought a single, low-flying plane had hit the twin towers in New York.
"When I turned on the television and saw the second plane, I knew that we were under attack and that lots of lives would be lost," Moe said.
And with nearly 3,000 casualties in the 9/11 attacks, Moe said as mayor, he wanted to implement new security initiatives here for emergency situations.
Tapping into federal funds
Laurel could be vulnerable due to its close proximity to the nation's capital, the National Security Agency, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and other critical locations. In addition, it was not lost on local officials that the 9/11 terrorists stayed at two motels in Laurel, used the Laurel Library's computers and trained at a nearby small airport.
"It was important to not sit idly by but have our emergency operational plans up to date and constantly reach out to the community so we would know each other's roles. Because in a time of emergency, it takes all of us working together," Moe said.
In 2003, the city established an all-volunteer Community Emergency Response Team program. Flemion said they decided to implement CERT after seeing residents pitch in to help during a tornado that hit the city 11 days after 9/11. However, they saw that at times, volunteers were at risk, he said, when they tried to do things such as cut downed trees that were still caught up in electrical wires.
"We wanted to have a formalized volunteer group that would be trained to watch out for themselves in an emergency and not become a burden to our response teams," Flemion said.
The curriculum for CERT training is set by the federal government, but Flemion said the city added CPR training, defibrillator use, traffic management, animal disaster training and shelter operation procedures.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the federal government made millions of dollars available through its Homeland Security Office to local governments for security needs. Laurel officials successfully applied for those funds and used them on a number of projects.
According to Flemion, since 9/11, the city has received more than $1.3 million in Homeland Security funds. Those funds helped to pay for equipment in the city's emergency operations center, located in the Municipal Center; and to outfit a state-of-the-art mobile command unit, which went into service in 2004. The mobile unit serves as a back-up to the county's mobile unit, and because Homeland Security funds were used on it, the command unit can be called into service by federal officials for emergencies up and down the eastern seaboard.