ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - September 2002


Looking Back a Year Later—How Americans Have Dealt With the Changes

There’s no denying that the past year has been a time of immense change in America. Regardless of profession, heritage, or perspectives on life, most Americans were shocked by the events of September 11, 2001, and have experienced a multitude of changes since that day.

News for a Change contacted several people who have played some role in post-September 11 events. They represent just a small segment of the people who have helped to shape the fabric of our future, but we believe you’ll find their perspectives enlightening.

NFC: What was your initial reaction to the news that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had experienced terrorist attacks? Please describe the conditions that existed when you became aware of the tragedy.

Farmer: Interestingly enough, when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center, I was meeting with two other individuals to plan a workshop on interest-based conflict resolution. One of the individuals was late for the meeting, having passed a television monitor on her way that was covering the crash. She heard the announcement that a plane had crashed into a tower at the World Trade Center and shared that information with us when she arrived. Initially, I thought she was joking, using a preposterous story as a humorous antidote to diminish the impact of her being late. But she wasn’t joking and that was made clear when we heard the announcement that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We were incredulous; experiencing news that was so foreign that it took days to comprehend what had happened.

Robinson: My initial reaction was both shock and anger, coupled with some disbelief. I was sitting in front of my television, switching channels to find out what the weather would be that day, when I went past CNN and saw the picture of one of the towers burning.

Romines: I was waiting in the lobby of the Edison Hotel in downtown Manhattan, a block from Times Square, with 80 other vacationing theater volunteers when I first heard of the tragedy. I was having a cup of New York “regular” coffee and a bagel. When we heard the news of the first collision, we were told it was a commuter plane. I couldn’t believe that any pilot could make that kind of mistake. The World Trade Center towers were massive and the day was beautifully clear. The next thought that ran through my mind was that possibly there had been a medical emergency—heart attack, hypoglycemia, or seizure—that had caused a pilot error and subsequent collision.

Then the word came that a commercial jet had rammed the building. The bagel I was eating got stuck in my throat, because I realized the collision was a purposeful act. It couldn’t have been an error or mistake because there are two capable people flying every commercial jetliner.

I pondered with others what could have happened; then I went back up to my wife and my room to check the television. I heard a breaking newscast headlined by the crash. A few moments later, when the second plane hit, I knew it was a contemplated, planned, horrific act. But who could do that? I couldn’t believe what was being said on the television.

I went back to the lobby and quickly walked to the corner of Times Square and looked toward the World Trade Center. I froze. I saw the top of the most gigantic ball of smoke I had ever seen, climbing into the sky. What the television was broadcasting was true. It had happened.

I then questioned myself, asking if there was anything else that was going to complicate the event. Training had taught me to assume that a planned event such as this would be accompanied by other happenings. Later we heard of the other planes.

NFC: What are your current feelings regarding the attacks?

Farmer: I am encouraged by the coalition that was created to fight terrorism, but I am concerned that President Bush has a tendency to listen to individuals who would pull out their six-shooters, and then, after blowing the enemy away, might sit down to talk. It seems that answering hate with hate only keeps the dance of hate going. We have an opportunity to work with the coalition to quiet the voices, supporters, and funding sources for terrorism. But then we also have an unparalleled opportunity to listen to those nations who have signed on to fight terrorism to understand what has worked in our international efforts and what has contributed to the desperation that was expressed by those terrorists, resulting in the loss of so many friends, family members, and colleagues…precious lives.

Robinson: I still feel anger along with some frustration. I am glad that the Taliban that supported terrorists has been ousted, but I am still frustrated that the main person responsible has not been brought to justice.

Romines: The act was despicable. There is no reason I could possibly imagine that would justify the actions of the people who planned and executed that act of terrorism, that act of murder. As far as I am concerned, the word terrorism is too clean; the act was unprovoked, contemplated murder of innocent civilians in the first degree.

NFC: As you reflect on the past year, what changes have you observed in our culture and lifestyle that seem related to the attacks?

Farmer: As a nation I have seen a coming together, a merging in a sense, where we have all suffered a striking blow, and with that, a death of innocence. Distinctions that served as dividers before 9-11, such as geographical location or urban versus rural, seem to have been erased. Instead, I see a nation of people who have come together as a community, proud to be Americans, embracing the freedoms we are assured through our Constitution. I see people from the West, North, South, East, and international locations reaching out, offering what they can to be a part of the healing process. I see a nation that has experienced a death that has joined us as one to grieve those and what we lost and to celebrate what we are about. I see the young and the old with a renewed sense of accountability...a sense that their voices do matter and that it is important to be heard.

I see a nation wounded by a vicious attack, but emerging stronger and determined that those lives lost will not be lost in vain...that we as a nation won’t cower in fear...that we are a part of a larger community that wants to end the senseless killing and egregious assaults that generate from a point of greed and blind fanaticism.

The most profound change to me has been a heightened awareness of my responsibility to partner with those individuals who have been elected to represent the collective voice of the American nation. I have been alarmed by statements that have suggested that questioning decisions of the president is “un-American.” It has been alarming to see this president working so hard to develop an administration that is cloaked in secrecy and directly attack the gains we had made regarding civil rights for all. I don’t think the president has a great deal of power, as there are checks and balances in place to make sure all sides of an issue are explored so that an informed decision can be made. But, the president does have tremendous power to set the tone for the nation.

When President Clinton left office, the tone in the country was one of service to one another, reaching out to your neighbor to offer a helping hand, building a sense of trust and inclusion among the American public. What I have seen with President Bush is a charismatic personality who is using this situation to breed fear, and with that fear, unchecked authority. In my opinion, it is important to answer such a hateful act with force, to demonstrate that there is a significant consequence for attacking the United States. But equally important, we need to demonstrate an attitude to understand what caused such an escalation of emotions that led to such a destructive act.

With that combined approach, I have hope that the coalition of nations can truly eradicate terrorism and the destruction that comes from unchecked power. Without the latter, the attitude to understand, I fear that we will just trade hate for hate in an unending, destructive dance.

Robinson: I think there have been a couple of changes. First, the general populace has gotten a little more patriotic. There was an initial surge immediately after the event when people were still angry, but the long-lasting effect is evident. For example, recruiting among all the armed services is meeting the goal this year when it was way behind the last few years.

Second, the general populace is more paranoid. They are less tolerant of strangers and less likely to be “sheep” if something happens.

Finally, the transportation industry, where I work, is a lot more tightly controlled. Personal freedom has been curtailed slightly for the safety of the general population.

Romines: I have noticed that we have become much more patriotic as a nation. It seems nationally and with our allies that people are closer to each other. People seem to be sharing emotions more. Also, there seems to be a heightened awareness and a searching for reasons why this would happen, why people would do this to our people, our nation—an attempt to make sense of the event. Naturally, I see more people preparing and protecting themselves from a future act of terrorism.

NFC: Try to imagine life in America 10 years from now. How do you think the attacks and our reactions to them will affect us at that point?

Farmer: We are in a critical time now as it relates to life in America 10 years from now. If we base our decisions on fear, in the short term we will focus on outpowering the opponent, rather than seeking a lasting resolution to the conflict that resulted in the 9-11 tragedy. The result of basing decisions on fear will be an ongoing struggle for that ever-elusive “power,” leaving only back and forth exchanges of “might.”

If, on the other hand, we take a long-term approach as demonstrated in the efforts of building a coalition of nations to fight terrorism, and if we listen to the members of the coalition, I believe we will eradicate terrorism. I’m hoping for the latter action.

Robinson: I think that as time goes on the general population will try to return to life as it was; however, I think that because of laws passed by Congress, life will not return entirely to that point. I think it will reach a median between the pre-9-11 days and the reactions immediately after 9-11.

Romines: I think we will have traded some freedom for a heightened level of security. That will be somewhat of a prize for the attackers; however, the difference I feel is that we will have voluntarily traded some freedom for security, versus it being taken from someone by the whim of a controller. Some of the loss of freedom will be obvious, such as lines and ID checks. Some will be less obvious, such as tracking of events and routines or non-entry to places considered part of critical infrastructure, that in the past were public and accessible.

NFC: Has America’s role in global affairs permanently changed as a result of this tragedy? If it has, how? Will it stay changed or will it revert to the status quo?

Farmer: That is yet to be seen. The initial steps to create a coalition of nations to fight terrorism demonstrated the leadership potential of the United States. If we treat those nations with respect and are willing to listen, as well as tell, we have the potential of remaining a leader among nations.

Robinson: Yes, now we are the watchdog of the world against terrorism. We will no longer tolerate countries that either shelter or support terrorism. I believe that will make the biggest impact—particularly depending on what the president does about Iraq. If war is waged on Iraq, I believe the United States needs to realize that one of the byproducts might be terrorism here—not on the level of that in Israel, but more than we have experienced in the past. I think it is only a matter of time before the United States starts experiencing terrorism on a more routine basis. I think that this will cause government officials to step back from being so proactive into adopting a more reserved role.

Romines: I think our role has and will remain changed. I think we will be seeking to strengthen our collaborative approach to global affairs. All see the threat; all see the cost. Many have lived daily with less horrific tragedies, but tragedies just the same. The global wave has been toward freedom and democracy; this threat applies to a larger audience than it has in the past. Given the magnitude of the murderous event, our nation and the world have no choice but to respond. As long as the conditions that caused the effect remain, I don’t see a possibility to revert to the status quo.

NFC: Please describe for our readers how your work was affected by 9-11—particularly any tasks in which you were involved in recovery and/or response efforts. Help us understand what you did before 9-11 and how it changed after 9-11.

Farmer: I work in the field of organization development and training. My work has continued, much the same as before 9-11, only with a deeper compassion for others and a heightened awareness that each moment is important, as what is here today may be gone tomorrow.

Because of my association with the International Association of Facilitators, I received a notice asking for facilitators to serve at a large town hall meeting in Lower Manhattan, titled “Listening to the City.” Wanting to participate in the healing process, I volunteered and, to my delight, was accepted as a facilitator. I traveled to New York in July and participated in a town hall meeting where 4,000 individuals came to voice their opinions, share ideas, and offer a collective voice in reviewing the initial plans for the World Trade Center site.

Through the use of computers, responses were sent to a database where a word analysis was done to identify the top five or six themes for each question asked. Those top themes were displayed on large screens in the hall shortly after the questions were posed, allowing the collective voice to be heard not only by the participants but also by the decision makers in Lower Manhattan.

The participants at “Listening to the City” included residents, individuals who had lost dear ones on 9-11, and others from across the nation who were interested in exploring options and being a part of this healing community. The decision makers have been responsive to what they heard at the town hall meeting.

Before 9-11, I thought only the premier players in the field of facilitation would have an opportunity to participate in such a monumental undertaking. What I found is that opportunities to participate are limited only by our willingness to volunteer, our courage to look beyond our fear, and our interest in being a part of the solution.

Robinson: As a commercial pilot, I was not directly involved with the post-9-11 response. I was, however, greatly influenced by it. My job industry is hemorrhaging from its effects—from being treated daily like a criminal while going through security just to get to the aircraft, to the uncertainty of whether I will even have a company to employee me.

Pilots are no longer treated with the respect that we once had. Since terrorist “pilots” did this dastardly thing, ALL pilots are now considered a threat and treated accordingly.

In addition, the airline industry has lost billions of dollars in revenue since 9-11. Average people still want inexpensive seats with unlimited choices of when to travel. They also want all the amenities that go along with the service we had prior to 9-11. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. Any business that loses from 20% to 40% of its customers cannot keep charging the same way to obtain the same profit—especially, when on the average, most airlines operate with only a 4% to 8% margin.

Romines: Actually, work for me had started in earnest a couple of years prior to the 9-11 tragedy. The state of Washington and local areas began work to plan for and mitigate acts of terrorism with a multi-jurisdictional, multi-disciplinary anti-terrorism committee. The committee has been assessing our capabilities and vulnerabilities; developing needs for equipment and training; and determining what, how, and who would respond, which is a significant part of the workload for many emergency providers.

One of the biggest difficulties is imagining what kinds of things could happen in the freest country in the world. How and where should we prepare for what? Some things are predictable and easier to plan for, some are not. I believe the effort is much more real to people after 9-11. Because it is more real to the world, nation, and people, I think the major change I have seen is a heightened seriousness, effort, and timeliness that the anti-terrorism tasks are now a much bigger blip on the radar screen.


Our Distinguished Panel

PAM FARMER is an associate with the Human Resource Development Center at Pennsylvania State University. She is responsible for the design and delivery of professional development programs for academic department heads, managers, and directors. She serves as an executive coach at Penn State and also coordinates the communication curriculum and new employee orientation program for university employees. Farmer has extensive experience in public relations and events planning in higher education. She has instructed in human resource management, human resource development, and organizational behavior at the University of Idaho and Washington State University.


WILLIAM ROBINSON has been a pilot with Alaska Airlines for more than 13 years and he currently serves as a captain on B737 flights. Prior to his time in commercial aviation, he spent 13 years in the Air Force, including nine years as a flight instructor and four years flying AWACS in the Far East.





STEVE ROMINES has been administrator for the Thurston County [WA] Medic One/ Emergency Medical Services System since 1992. He previously served as EMS administrator Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department/EMS division, as well as director of the Tacoma Department of Emergency Services. His background also includes time as an emergency medical services instructor, firefighter, paramedic, and LPN.




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September 2002 News for a Change Homepage


 In This Issue...
Looking Back a Year Later—How Americans Have Dealt With the Changes

Journal of a Visitor to Tragedy

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?

Tribute to America:
How Our Lives Have Changed Since September 11

Book Nook

From Our Perspective

What's Up?


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