Sept. 11, 2001 was a tragic day for several thousand souls who lost their lives and the bereaved families and friends left behind in the wake of a horrific terrorist attack. Much is known about the response in New York and at the other sites of destruction, but most people don’t know how cities across the country responded to that unique challenge.
I had been mayor for less than five months and we were prepared to begin our commission meeting when images of a plane flying into the World Trade Center appeared on TV monitors in chambers. At first, it was assumed that an errant pilot had accidently crashed a small private plane into the tower. Soon, however, came the news of the second collision.
By that time the meeting was in progress, but was interrupted by the police chief with the announcement that it was being suggested that the on-going events were part of a terrorist attack on our nation. The meeting was immediately adjourned with words of caution for citizens to stay alert and aware of their surroundings and to avoid government buildings which might be targets.
Even though we didn’t believe that Coral Gables was in imminent danger, we wanted to ensure all precautions were taken to protect our citizens. All essential public safety personnel were called to duty. Police and fire vehicles were strategically positioned throughout the city to ensure survivability and to provide residents a heightened sense of security. A bomb detection dog was sent into major public buildings to ensure that no explosives were present. The senior staff was relocated to the Emergency Operations Center, providing direct communications with other law enforcement.
By mid-afternoon, the city had effectively secured its business districts and residential neighborhoods. Finally, we determined that if the terrorists could shut down local governments — they had won. That was unacceptable.
Thus, as evening approached, the commission was called back into session to demonstrate that this government would continue to function despite the horrific actions of people intent on destroying our nation’s democratic institutions.
Don Slesnick, Coral Gables