9/11: A Look BackWe've Made Improvements, But Can't Get Comfortable
I, like most Americans, have had 9/11 on my mind for the last several days: remembering the confusion I felt when the Twin Towers were hit in New York City, and the blood-chilling reality-check I got when news hit the airwaves of the Pentagon attack and the failed attack attempt that resulted in the fatal crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa..
It makes me uneasy to even think of it; strange how the emotions come back, giving the memory crystal clarity of events that took place a decade ago. I was in Norfolk, Va., at a newspaper training event. Our group, a collection of publishers, editors and sales managers from throughout the country, was evacuated from the Norfolk meeting center soon after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Outside, the plaza was filled with military personnel charged with clearing the streets. We feared an attack on the U.S. Naval Station in Norfolk might be next. We each spent the next day confined to our hotel room.
I think it was a wake-up call for all of us, to basically accept the reality of terrorism ...
It's interesting to hear stories from that day. It brings us together - a common, tragic bond we all share. This week, I and my colleagues collected a number of perspectives from industry sources in banking, government and healthcare about experiences on 9/ll. You can find some of those insights in the 9/11: What We've Learned piece we collectively posted this week.
All of the stories stand out, but one in particular actually reminds me of something I had forgotten: that the 9/11 attacks did not just affect America; they impacted the world.
That perspective rang through with an eerie vibe during an interview with Rolf von Roessing, past international vice president of ISACA, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. Roessing reminded me that 9/11 stirs frightening memories for the world, not just America. In the end, every nation is vulnerable to terrorism.
"Security leaders have learned to think the unthinkable," von Roessing says. "We've come to realize that these things can be brought to our doorstep, and we've learned to defend against them.
"I don't think the world outside the U.S. is that much different from America," he says. "In fact, if there's a threat to the U.S., there's usually a threat to the whole western world, and you can't sort of escape that truth. ... I think it was a wake-up call for all of us, to basically accept the reality of terrorism, accept the reality of having to do more for security, accept the reality of having more forward-intelligence, and generally having to be much more vigilant than before."
So true. The world is a smaller place, and we've all learned countless lessons since that September day in 2001. The U.S. was caught off-guard. None of the experts I spoke with denies that fact. And, as the financial industry has learned time and time again via the ongoing cyberthreats our industry faces on a daily basis, we will be caught off-guard again. I think Kevin Sullivan, a former investigator with the New York State Police said it best: "We need to be right all the time; [terrorists] need to only be right once."
But the measures we've put in place since 9/11 have led to huge improvements, not just in security, but also in communications, infrastructure and recovery planning. I suppose the biggest lesson of all, however, is that we can never get too comfortable.