Sept. 11 increases awareness, little else


Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Until one year ago today, Americans were comfortable in the way they lived their lives, taking for granted such things as safe passage to and from work or school, relative safety when traveling by air and an impregnable national defense system.

Terrorists armed with hijacked airliners changed all that.

In the days and weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, people rushed to the fore wanting to help with donations of labor and equipment to help search for possible survivors, donations of money to help victims and donations of blood in case injured victims were found.

Even the nation's patriotism, which had somehow become relegated to veterans' organizations and the singing of the National Anthem before sporting events, soared.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, the events of Sept. 11, changed things, too. While many people looked to increase security, many sought to help through donations of time, money and blood.

Now, one year later, what has changed and what has remained the same?

Security at Kenai airport

Much of the improvement in transportation security has been focused on airports, including the Kenai Municipal Airport.

Since Sept. 11, the airport has installed security cameras throughout the terminal building, at aircraft ramps and in the parking lot.

A security gate, card-entry system has been installed in the airport's perimeter fence, now controlling access onto airport property by delivery and maintenance vehicles.

And, motorists dropping off or picking up passengers at the airport can no longer park in front of the terminal. The nearest parking space to the building is 50 feet away.

The airport had always worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and Civil Aviation Security field office on issues involving airport security, according to Rebecca Cronkhite, airport manager. Since Sept. 11, those activities have been transferred to the Transportation Security Administration division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"We also work with our airline -- Era Aviation -- to assist them in complying with the security program," Cronkhite said.

Details of that program are confidential.

Cronkhite also said the FAA assesses threats, issues advisories and communicates security procedures to general aviation, the pilots of privately owned planes.

"The primary directive to general aviation is to be aware, be observant and be cautious," Cronkhite said.

She also said that since Sept. 11, everyone's attitude has changed.

"We've always been security conscious, but now the awareness, the vigilance has increased."

Law enforcement changes

From the Federal Bureau of Investigation to police departments in Soldotna and Kenai, Sept. 11 has altered procedures and methodology.

"As soon as we get information on possible terrorist activity, we put out alerts and these advisories continue as information develops," said Eric Gonzalez, FBI special agent for the Anchorage division, which includes the peninsula.

"Right now, we have no information of any credible threat to any location in Alaska," he said Monday.

Gonzalez said since Sept. 11, the bureau has reallocated resources toward counter-terrorism, including training, building a better liaison between the FBI and local police agencies and building better sources of information.

Among the training topics new since one year ago is "how we train responders to reports of a suspicious white substance."

"Before 9-11, we suspected the white substance to be cocaine, now we treat it as if it's anthrax," Gonzalez said.

He said that in Alaska, the obvious terrorist threat would be the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"For Kenai, it could be the oil platforms, but today, it's hard to know when or where any terrorist would strike," he said.

The Soldotna Police Department has developed written procedures on the threat of anthrax, according to Chief Shirley Gifford, and the department has been host to members of the U.S. Attorney's office, U.S. Marshal's office, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms since the events of a year ago.

"We have no indication that heightened security needs to be done for the anniversary of Sept. 11, but we'll be out there, and we are always ready," said Gifford.

Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp said all Kenai officers have received bioterrorism training since Sept. 11, learning to respond to incidents involving nuclear, biological and incendiary devices.

"We now have a heightened awareness of the degree of disaster that can befall us," he said. "Before, we thought of single, specific incidents such as an assault.

"We've done specific site assessments of oil and gas facilities, the airport and our transportation network," he said.

"We have good reason to be vigilant and alert -- not paranoid. We are a nation at war."

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, "no-stopping" zones were established near area refineries.

Alan Thye, safety supervisor for Agrium, thinks the zones are necessary.

"Because we take the security of our facility so seriously, this will probably be in place for awhile," Thye said.

He said people in the area of the plant in North Kenai have not complained about the no-stopping areas, and he has heard some positive comments.

Lt. Tom Bowman, commander of the peninsula's detachment of Alaska State Troopers, reports that troopers have responded to calls of vehicles stopped near the refineries, but all have been simply motorists with flat tires or broken down RVs.

Bowman said he appreciates receiving reports of vehicles stopped near the industrial plants.

"Our biggest asset in that area, as well as anywhere, is John Q. Citizen."

Blood donations wane

Last Sept. 11 was a "pretty intense day," said Rita Wydra, manager of the Kenai Peninsula blood bank.

The blood bank saw 75 people with a staff of only six. They had to shut the doors on 20 donors still standing outside, she said.

They collected 60 units of blood that day and had to stop taking it because it had to be transferred to Anchorage for processing, which was a difficult task because there were no flights. In order to solve the complication, they used a refrigerator truck instead.

Their shelves were stocked, and with no flights leaving Alaska, they were forced to stop taking blood Sept. 12.

The blood overflow is not the same this year.

"We are lucky if we average six units a day," Wydra said. "We are short on all types right now."

All of the Alaska blood banks combined only have 450 units as of today, while 2,100 units are needed to supply Alaska with blood.

The blood bank has been short on donations all summer, Wydra said. It might be partly because more people leave for vacation and also because there are more accidents in the summer.

Blood only lasts for 42 days. It remains in Alaska for 75 percent of its shelf life, then it is sent to other parts of the country.

"We are always in need," Wydra said.


The Kenai Peninsula United Way does not know what to expect with donations this year.

Last year it exceeded its monetary goal of $650,000, partly due to residents' generosity following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Evy Gebhardt, executive director.

Because the agency is uncertain of this year's economic climate, it has kept its fund-raising goal the same as last year.

Veterans treated to fishing

Area fishing guides will do their part to commemorate Sept. 11 in typical peninsula fashion: by going fishing.

The Kenai River Professional Guides Association, in conjunction with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, plans to take more than 50 veterans of the U.S. armed services out for a day of silver salmon fishing today on the Kenai River.

KRPGA President Joe Connors said his group has been planning the event for several months.

"We just felt it would be a good way to remember the veterans and Sept. 11," Connors said Tuesday.

Connors said at least 20 veterans from the peninsula, as well as 30 from other parts of Alaska are expected to attend. Fifteen area fishing guides will volunteer their services for the day.

Patriotism returns to shelf

If sales of American flags and assorted red, white and blue memorabilia is an indication, patriotism has returned to the background of Americans' minds.

A year ago, retailers on the Kenai Peninsula, and in most other parts of the country, were completely sold out. American flags were all bought.

That's hardly the case one year later.

Representatives of Fred Meyer and Safeway in Soldotna and Carrs and Big Kmart in Kenai expect to meet demand.

The mad rush for flags and such last year is over. No surge in demand has been reported this year.

Clarion reporters Marcus Garner, Cactus Shepherd and Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.

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