By Allan Lengel
Thirteen years ago today, I was walking down Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., on my way to work, about to get on the subway, when I ran into a friend who asked if I had heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
I hadn’t. By the time I got off the subway at the Farragut North stop downtown, the city was in a panic. I ran into my editor at the Washington Post, who said she had heard that planes had crashed into the Pentagon and the State Department. Rumors were running rampant.
We got to the newsroom and everyone was standing around TVs watching the incredulous events unfold.
A second plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center and a third had crashed into the Pentagon, not all that far away. We were under attack.
We all got our assignments. I was sent to D.C. Police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW to hang out all day. I walked there, about 1.5 miles. On the way over there, you could hear everyone on the street calling loved ones, checking in.
At police headquarters, a group of reporters stood out front, hanging out. The police chief, Charles Ramsey, (who is now the Philadelphia Police chief) would occasionally drive by and give us updates. A plane in Pennsylvania was still unaccounted for. We kept looking up at the sky wondering if it just might come our way.
The world changed that day. We had been shaken before as Americans. We had the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but this was of a magnitude we had never seen before.
We’ve learned a lot since that time. At first, the FBI, jittery from not unearthing the 9/11 plot, and getting plenty blame for that, followed up on every tip it got, regardless of how silly it might have seemed. In time, it learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. Also, for a while, authorities were overly paranoid about anyone in D.C. taking photos or video of buildings. That eventually changed.
Plus, the government, the White House, the FBI and other agencies, had a lot to learn about Islam. The FBI shifted its top priority to terrorism, and we created the Department of Homeland Security, which frankly, the verdict is still out on how effective that has been.
Since that day, Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve become far more aware of the potential terrorism threat.
Frankly, in the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, I thought life would never be normal again. Fortunately, things have returned to some semblance of normalcy.
But we’ll likely never feel as safe as we did on Sept. 10, 2001.