September 9, 2011

'Now it's in the back of your mind'

Security and liberty. War and worry. Our world changed forever when terror came to America.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

The horror, sadness and rage that accompanied the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has diminished over the past 10 years, and the impacts on Mainers' daily lives have either dissipated or become accepted rituals of business and public safety.

However, the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history have left their mark on the state's psyche, everything from a resurgence of unabashed patriotism to an uncomfortable sense of vulnerability, from a concerted effort to keep citizens safe to fears of an overreaching government probing the private lives of those citizens.

"I think in a variety of day-to-day ways, our lives remain fairly consistent with what they were 15 years ago," said Ronald Schmidt, chairman of the political science department at the University of Southern Maine. "But Sept. 11 and the reaction to Sept. 11 has transformed the agenda of the United States and in that way it's changed our lives collectively."

Ten years of war, the tension between freedom and security, and a worldview seen largely through the lens of terrorism are just some of the ongoing repercussions spawned by the attacks.

The grief of that day also persists.

"A lot of people have done a lot of healing. The yearly rituals have helped," said Carol Nemeroff, professor of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College. "There's likely to be lingering damage among a lot of people, depending on how directly they were impacted or what kind of exposure they had. A lot of people have developed (post-traumatic stress disorder) from this."

Portland has its own personal relationship with Sept. 11 -- the city where the first hijackers boarded planes that morning, a city apparently chosen for no other reason than it was close to Boston and there typically would be no need to be screened again after connecting there.

Mohamed Atta, dubbed the mastermind of the attacks, was one of the two terrorists to embark here.

In the weeks and months after the attacks, Portland residents and workers adjusted to a wave of changes.

Parking spaces around federal buildings disappeared, replaced by routine patrols. A backpack left behind a bush at U.S. District Court in Portland resulted in an hours-long bomb scare, resolved by the deployment of a bomb-disarming robot purchased with federal funds after the attack.

Security screening has become commonplace at many government facilities and is now an accepted part of the landscape.

The most obvious changes in the post-9/11 world are the security precautions around flying, where all checked baggage passes through bomb-detection devices and would-be passengers at the Portland Jetport accept protracted delays as federal screeners inspect carry-on items and shoes.

Air travelers have learned, for the most part, to avoid bringing standard-size containers of shampoo and shaving cream in carry-on luggage, much less pocketknives or the box cutters that authorities have identified as the weapon of choice for the hijackers.

For Mark Usinger, a chandler who helps supply cargo ships plying Portland Harbor, post-9/11 security is pervasive on the waterfront.

"Everywhere I go, it's a constant 'Show ID, show ID, show ID," he said. "It's the same for anybody in the maritime industry. The people on the ships, they're not able to leave the ships a lot of the time."

Many changes are invisible to the public, with police and firefighters working to ward off future attacks and be prepared to respond if one does occur.

"In the terrorism realm, I think officers are taught from the very beginning to keep more of an open mind about scenarios they're in and people they have contact with ... what should we look for and what should we be mindful of in our daily duties," said Acting Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

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