9/11 Events Changed Security Mindset

This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of the attack on America. Both the City of Houston and Harris County have offices of Homeland Security, formed not long after the events of 9/11. What were the lessons learned and are we safer as a result?


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Before he became director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Dennis Storemski was assistant chief with the Houston Police Department. He was preparing to go to work when he saw the broadcast of the
plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Sixth World Trade Center
View of southwest corner of the U.S. Customs House, Six World Trade Center, shortly after September 11, 2001. Taken by James Tourtellotte, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee.

“Obviously, we were aware this was a terrorist attack, but we didn’t know was this just the first wave? Were our tall buildings at risk? Was other critical infrastructure in the city at risk? And so, we immediately began trying to decide what we could do to at least target harden, and be able to respond to an incident if it happened here in Houston.”

Long before he became Harris County Judge, Ed Emmett was a transportation consultant attending a conference in Japan. He was alerted by staff members on the events and was glued to the television. It was the next morning that Emmett says he will never forget.

“There was a group of us who went down to breakfast in the hotel there in Yokahama, and as we walked in, an elderly Japanese gentleman walked to me, and why he picked me, I don’t know, but he said ‘Are you an American?’ I said ‘Well, yes we are.’ At which point, the entire restaurant stood up and bowed. That depth of feeling is just unforgettable.”

Not long after, a 9/11 commission studying the events lead to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, and local departments followed. Emmett as Harris County Judge also heads the Department of Homeland Security and
Emergency Management.

“You’ve got federal agencies like the FBI and others, who actively work threats all the time, and they communicate with the Sheriff’s office and I’m sure, with HPD and other various police departments around. And so I guess when I get irritated is when I hear some flippant radio talk show host say, ‘And these people haven’t prevented a single terrorist attack.’ They don’t know that.”

Storemski’s charge as Houston’s director of public safety and homeland security is simple: coordination of all departments.

“The police department is the operational arm of fire departments, first responders, EMS, Public Works, the Health Department. Everybody has a homeland security role, so my job is to coordinate that effort properly to better enhance our capabilities to protect, prevent, respond and recover from a terrorist incident.”

Both Storemski and Judge Emmett say without question things have changed in ten years, but it created a security mindset that cannot be denied.

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