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In their words

Are we less vulnerable? How has life changed? These Floridians ought to know.

By Times Staff Writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2003

THE POLICE OFFICER

photo
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Sgt. Gary Robbins, assistant commander of St. Petersburg Police Department's SWAT team
Sgt. Gary Robbins, assistant commander of St. Petersburg Police Department's SWAT team

"We're doing a lot more soul-searching now. What would we do if we got hit in our city? Just being able to play "what if' games helps. We're not going to take anything lightly. I think 9/11 really had all the agencies making sure they didn't take anything lightly, and I think we need to keep up that mindset.

I was able to see the closing ceremonies to Ground Zero. It was a very solemn experience. You could see how much time, how much effort, how much caring was involved with the people still there. My life didn't change, but inwardly you changed because you realize there are people who actually care about the public servants.

It renews your faith in the job you selected. You come back and you have a renewed interest for serving the community. You really are renewed by the fact that there are people who actually care about what you do. Sometimes the officers don't see that."

photo
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Louis Miller, executive director, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, Tampa
THE AIRPORT DIRECTOR

Louis Miller, executive director, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, Tampa

"I'm struck by how much I suddenly care about colors. I never used to worry about colors all that much. But I've become obsessed with the national alert system. We're at yellow now. We don't want to go to orange. And if we go to red, we'd almost have to close the airport because security would become so restrictive.

When you're in the business I'm in, you're reminded every day of what happened on Sept. 11. We used to take for granted that our job was to move people through the airport as fast and efficiently as we could. All that is gone. Speed and convenience has been subverted to security. And you can't do anything involving security without disrupting people. It has changed the way we do business.

I don't think there's any doubt that we're more secure today. The system isn't perfect, but it's vastly improved. We had a press conference the other day where we showed off something like 23,000 items taken from people that they're not allowed to carry on airplanes. And that was in just three months.

Yes, a lot of them were scissors. But there also were switchblades and guns. All of this stuff was getting onto airplanes before, and people weren't really being punished. We'd notify the FBI, and they'd come, and if they decided the person wasn't a threat, they'd let him go.

Now, you get caught trying to carry a gun on a plane, you'll get charged with a felony, for sure, and fined up to $10,000 and maybe spend some time in jail. I think that's a pretty good deterrent against somebody forgetting they've got a gun in a briefcase."

photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerrard Mack, reservist working in a full-time position, 622nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Tampa. Deployed last year to Afghanistan.
THE RESERVIST

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerrard Mack, reservist working in a full-time position, 622nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Tampa. Deployed last year to Afghanistan.

"Every place I go I check the environment out, evaluating the best way in and out of buildings. I normally had not done that before, but now I'm more conscious of it. I do it a lot. My mother once asked, "Why do you do that? Are you looking for something to happen?' (Laughs) I said, "No, I'm not looking for something to happen but I want to see it coming.'

I didn't carry a firearm after (work) hours before. I do now. It's not that I'm looking to shoot somebody. If ... I need ... to protect myself or family or friends I will have the means to do so. If ... I'm relaxing around the house I'm not going to have the firearm on me. But if I decide to attend something public or I'm going to a wide open space where there are crowds of people or if I'm going somewhere I haven't been before and I'm unfamiliar with the territory, I will carry it.

I'll be 34 on 9/11. ... It has changed how others celebrate my birthday, most notably my military comrades. They don't forget as easily. The events of 9/11 and the deaths that have ensued have not softened my resolve toward what the military is doing. I really do think we're doing what is right."

THE STATE SECURITY CHIEF

Daryl McLaughlin, interim director, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

"I think since Sept. 11, domestic security is on the tip of everybody's tongue. First thing every morning we get an alert. It comes at 9 a.m., telling us about threats, intelligence concerns, all manner of issues. Prior to Sept. 11, this never occurred.

It's now a major part of our overall mission, and quite frankly domestic security never came up in this organization before Sept. 11.

Two or three times a week we talk about what the Homeland Security plans are relating to alerts if they have any. We also talk about events across the globe that may have impact in country and more specifically the state - and we talk about funding.

In the past we worried about what was going on with international narcotics ... rather than homeland security. We were concerned with South and Central America. We weren't thinking about these kinds of issues before. Now when we read the papers or see the morning news, we are very interested in the Far East and other places."

photo
[Times photo: Ken Shimizu]
Carla Wilson, small parcel bundle sorter, main Post Office, St. Petersburg.
THE POSTAL WORKER

Carla Wilson, small parcel bundle sorter, main Post Office, St. Petersburg

"I finally ... in my mind I said, I can't go to work afraid every single day. I said if fate has it that I'm going to die of anthrax on my job then that's probably just going to be the way it is, you know. I've still got to go to work, I've still got to do my job ... you would think about it. But then after about a week, you were just, okay, we have to get the mail out.

My father used to tell me, worry about the stuff you can take care of. ... I always heard that worrying was like a rocking chair. It gave you something to do but got you nowhere.

You just try to put that in the back of your mind and not let it surface to be an everyday thing. You'd drive yourself crazy."

THE STUDENT
photo
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Magdi Salhab, pharmacy and business student at the University of South Florida. Lives in Temple Terrace

Magdi Salhab, pharmacy and business student at the University of South Florida. Lives in Temple Terrace

"I don't feel safer. If something like Sept. 11 can happen, then anything can happen. And with the war on Iraq, I'm afraid of backlash against the United States. I fear more for my mother (who wears a headscarf).

The mood is distrust in many areas. I pretty much think a significant portion of Muslims think that everyone is out to get them. I don't personally feel that way, but a lot of Muslims feel that way, maybe because of bad experiences.

On campus last year, we started the Student Organization for Islamic Awareness. We had an interfaith dinner with one of the Catholic groups. We wanted to show Muslims are peaceful people. We want to get to know other faiths and we're very tolerant and we are just as American as any other religious group.

I feel more American now because of Sept. 11. It wasn't just an attack on Christians or Jews, even though the people who did the attack say that. It was an attack on Muslims, too. When someone of your faith does that, you feel like you have to separate yourself, especially since I've been here all my life and I'm an American."

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Dennis Condon, captain for a major airline, Palm Harbor
THE PILOT

Dennis Condon, captain for a major airline, Palm Harbor

"The new cockpit doors, at face value, are okay. Let's be realistic, though. If someone could breach a bank vault, what do you think are the odds of them being able to breach the cockpit door? You make the call. The "new' cockpit door is helpful but not a cure-all.

If I had to choose between having a "secure' cockpit door or TSA screeners, it would be the door, hands down. The screeners are window-dressing, and it's doubtful if they would ever be able to identify, let alone stop, a terrorist. It would be too easy for a terrorist to enter the sterile areas of an airport other than through security, but if they decided to enter through the baggage screener area (TSA) they would be met with little if any resistance.

Having been an advocate of armed flight crews, I am disheartened but not at all surprised with the lackluster attempt to arm pilots so far. Two years after 9/11, a minuscule number of pilots have completed federal school in order to legally carry a weapon onboard for protection. There is no reason that this program is taking so long."

THE HEALTH OFFICIAL

Julia Gill, epidemiology program manager, Pinellas County Health Department, St. Petersburg

"The difference in how we respond today vs. two years ago is that in every unusual disease case, or even in the usual disease case, we now have to consider the possibility that it could be the intentional spread of disease. ... So there would be a potential criminal element in unusual disease patterns.

We certainly have plans made ... for many scenarios that could potentially occur. The likelihood of them happening is extremely small, but the consequences are so large, it's of the utmost importance we not be caught off-guard."

- Times staff writers Bill Adair, Jean Heller, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Leanora Minai, Steve Huettel, Lucy Morgan, Curtis Krueger, Rebecca Catalanello, Jim Ross, Lisa Greene, Waveney Ann Moore, Marcus Franklin, William R. Levesque and Babita Persaud contributed to this report.


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