The New Normal

by: Steven L. Athey

The news has been pretty grim this week with the terrorist threat warnings. We are being told on every news outlet that the unusual U.S. decision to close its diplomatic embassies in the Middle East Sunday was prompted by intercepts of high-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives signaling a major attack. Those who have been briefed on the intelligence called the threat reporting among the most serious they’ve seen in recent years, reminiscent of the intelligence chatter that preceded the September 11, 2001 attacks. No one wants to relive that event and all measures are being taken to “heed” the warnings – this time. As I watch the news reporting and the Sunday morning talk shows I have my own questions about the information gathering and whether or not we should be so open in reporting our plans, but I mostly reflect on the comparisons to “September 11” since that anniversary is right around the corner.

Last year I flew on September 11, the anniversary of the most infamous air attack since Pearl Harbor. I have never purposely avoided travel on this date but this was the first time business travel had fallen on this date for me in those 11 years. I travel a great deal and have grown used to the lines, the screening and the security; most of us grizzled travelers consider it the “new normal” (Well maybe not completely used to it as I wrote in this blog http://hcvems.com/blog/new-rules-for-air-travel/). When I woke up that morning in eastern Ohio I realized that I would be boarding a plane on 9/11 and I wondered what I would find at the airport as I traveled home. Would there be heightened security? Would I notice a difference? I really wasn’t worried but I was curious.

Since the first week after the attacks I have avoided the books, movies and really any discussions of 9/11 for 11 years – I just find it very hard to deal with. When I see a History Chanel or CNN special on the events of that day, I might think “I want to see that”, but when I start to watch the program and the first plane hits the tower – I am out! There is way too much pain for all of us and not enough answers. I don’t think we will ever really understand the “why” of that event. Even though I wasn’t there, I didn’t lose anybody close to me and I have no special connection to the events of that day, I did stay glued to the TV 11 years ago and I don’t want to relive it. Explaining the events of that day to our second grader in a way that was truthful, without instilling fear in her was a difficult conversation that thousands of parents had to deal with.

Laying in bed at the hotel channel surfing the night before, I came across a special titled “The Footnotes of 9/11” and I paused long enough to watch a United airline maintenance supervisor being interviewed. His job that day was to sit in an office and receive communications from airborne United flights about things that “break”… like the coffee maker won’t work, or the VCR won’t show the movie. He then “talks” the crew through the “fix”, sort of like a “help desk” for his group of airplanes in flight. He received a message from a flight attendant who had heard there were terrorist in the cockpit of the first plane that hit the World Trade Center and he knew he had to warn the other flights in the air. Looking into the camera, he describes his thought process about sending the fastest, most succinct message he could; he typed and sent a message to every cockpit of every United plane in the air at that time, “Beware, any cockpit intrusion”. Seconds later he receives a message back from Flight 93 asking for “clarification”. He doesn’t have time to clarify before that cockpit is breached and Flight 93 is lost with all souls aboard. His face visibly changes, his eyes water as he chokes up and asks “How could I have been quicker?” “What message would have been better?” You could see the misplaced guilt and real sorrow in his face. The narrator of the show tells us, “the man has retired and hasn’t worked since”. I quickly turn the channel to reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond”.

September 11th last year saw the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Benghazi attacked and US oficials murdered in horrific events, but travel in the U. S. was mostly uneventful. There wasn’t much of a difference at the airport for anyone’s travel. You could see a little more diligence with the TSA personnel and a little more solemn approach to interactions, searches and “pat downs” and a few more bomb sniffing dogs in the airport. I have some faith that these measures are keeping me safer and I guess I’m willing to live the “new normal” as atrade off.

This year as September 11th approaches I think I’ll just buy Season 1 of the “Game of Thrones” and not watch any news.

Steven Athey is the President of the EMS Consulting Firm, Health Care Visions. Steve has worked in the ambulance industry since 1971 and has managed large and small EMS organizations. Steve holds his undergraduate degree and his MBA from Texas Wesleyan University, where he holds an adjunct faculty position in the School of Business. Steve can be reached at slathey@hcvems.com

1 comment

  1. Janet Smith says:

    Nicely written. I think your insight is spot on and I too avoid those images of 9/11 like the plague. It seems that as the threat escalates so does the anxiety of every EMS provider in the world. Putting our paramedics and EMTs in dangerous situations may be just “day in the life” routine to address the “#@%*” that happens on highways, at home and in the workplace. However, responding to the event and aftermath of audacious violence by terrorists is a completely different dilemma. Enjoy the Game of Thrones. Slightly addicting.

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