September 11: Five years later
- September 11 Reader Essays
- 6News video: Terrorist attacks still influence everyday life in Lawrence (09-11-06)
- Interview with U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts regarding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath
- On the street: Where were you when you heard about 9-11?
- 'The image that sticks with me and won't ever leave' (09-11-06)
- Do Lawrence residents have a false sense of security? (09-11-06)
- Sept. 11 hovers in background of the 'new normal' (09-11-06)
- Timeline since Sept. 11 attacks (09-11-06)
- Bush: Anniversary a day to renew resolve (09-11-06)
- Bookshelf a tribute to former resident killed in attacks (09-11-06)
- Lawrence Journal-World 9-11 front page .pdf (09-11-06)
- Roberts delivers insider's view of the War on Terror
- Lawrence's support for arts rebounds five years after 9-11 (09-10-06)
- 9/11/2001: Read stories from The Journal-World's Extra Edition
- Postcards of Change: A look at a changed country
- Photo galleries: A chronicle of unfolding events
Seventy-three miles is not very far in the post 9/11 world of terrorism.
That's the distance between Lawrence and the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Burlington. It's also a good number for anybody who thinks Lawrence - nestled deep in the heartland - is insulated from the dangers of a terrorist attack.
"Shortly after 9/11, the country was really focused on what happened, but I think right now many people are lulled into a false sense of security, unless you travel by aircraft or go overseas," said Felix Moos, a Kansas University anthropology professor who is a longtime teacher of a class analyzing violence and terrorism.
None of that is to say that Osama bin Laden or other terrorists are sitting around a map of Lawrence or Northeast Kansas. Moos and others agree that a community like Lawrence isn't an "obvious target."
But it is not like it couldn't happen either. In addition to being just a stiff southwest breeze away from one of only 64 nuclear power plants in the country, there are all types of potentially dangerous materials that travel through the city via two major railroad lines and a U.S. interstate.
Plus, there's plenty of groups besides Al Qaeda that are in the terrorism business. As the Oklahoma City bombing proved, domestic terrorism can be a real threat to an innocuous Midwestern community.
"Regardless of whether we are a low risk for international terrorism, you can't forget about domestic terrorism," said Paula Phillips, director of the Douglas County Emergency Management Agency. "That's usually an attack on government for social types of causes, and in some ways, we would be prime for that."
Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, who teaches the class related to terrorism alongside Moss, has a take-nothing-for-granted attitude on the subject.
"Is Lawrence a probable target? The answer is no," Olin said. "But people may use a community's invisibility as a way to make themselves invisible prior to an event.
"Safety and security in Lawrence have never been better. It is still a delightful place to live. But people have to remember that we are at war."
About the only thing certain when it comes to terrorism, numerous experts say, is that the next attack won't be like the last one.
That makes the best defense for people like Olin and Phillips to plan and then plan some more. Phillips said terrorism-related activities have been scenarios that emergency preparedness officials in Douglas County have conducted. But that sort of planning was going on pre-9/11. Phillips said her office conducted a scenario prior to 9/11 that involved multiple bombs going off at different locations within the community.
These days, Phillips said the major emphasis in disaster planning is how to deal with mass causalities and mass fatalities, something that wasn't always covered in more traditional planning exercises. After all, a tornado or a flood - the type of events emergency planners have long prepared for - can kill but they're not likely to leave 5,000 or more people dead.
"We spend a lot of time talking about how we would dispense a lot of medications, and what would happen to the standard of care if we were treating thousands of people at a time," Phillips said.
Emergency planners also spend more time preparing for larger gatherings in the community. For example, Phillips said first responders will begin meeting more than six months in advance of next year's Wakarusa Music Festival to discuss scenarios such as what would happen if the water supply became contaminated at the event or if something happened that caused mass casualties.
"Five years ago, I'm not sure we would have done that," Phillips said.
Olin said he's definitely noticed a difference in how seriously people take the role of planning for a disaster.
"I can tell you that there has been a huge amount of background work done on identifying possible targets in Kansas," Olin said. "And take an exercise on the pandemic flu, for example. Those are now taken very seriously, when five years ago we had a hard time getting people to show up."
As for specific changes that have been made to security at locations around the city, leaders are reluctant to discuss those. But there have been changes that just ordinary citizens have noticed, with some probably related to 9/11 and others perhaps not.
For example, bags are checked more closely at sporting events on the Kansas University campus. A metal detector now greets all visitors entering the Lawrence-Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. A police officer now sits outside every City Commission meeting. And sign-up sheets and locked doors are now common at the city's water and sewer plants.
"There may be more locked doors than there used to be, but we also work hard to balance that with not wanting to create an unnecessary obstruction to the public," said interim City Manager David Corliss.
Corliss said the city also tries to take a broader look at how to prepare for disasters. He said post 9/11 city leaders have given more thought about whether all essential city records have been securely archived, and a review of the city's generator capacity has been done to determine how the city could keep essential operations running absent power.
Interview with U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts regarding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath
"We work on this, but we also have to keep it in perspective," Corliss said. "We don't know where the next attack would happen, but the experts say we're not a real likely target, so we just keep it in perspective and continue to live life."
Preparing the populace
Professor Moss does think that Lawrence, and all university communities, have at least one unique role to play in the war on terror.
"I believe education is an absolute necessity in this war," said Moss, who has been successful in lobbying Congress to fund a program that provides training to college students interested in entering the intelligence field. "We have to help people understand that this is going to last 30 or 40 years. This is a confrontation that is going to be a long-term one."
Olin also thinks there is work to do on the front of educating people that the business of security is not just for the people who get paid to provide it.
"A major way in which you defeat many of these incidents is citizen awareness," Olin said. "If people are not paying attention because they think we're immune, that is a very dangerous attitude.
"I think the American public forgets very rapidly. I think some people expect they won't have to make sacrifices again in the future, and that may be a very unreasonable expectation."