PITTSBURGH – The entire city of Pittsburgh is trying to leave the city at the same time. That was the scene in our city on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Former Police Chief Robert McNeilly testified in federal court when he heard of the attacks on New York and then the Pentagon. He knew he had to protect those in Pittsburgh while they tried to get home to their family.
“When you think about it, you think of a soccer stadium with 90,000 people in it. The game is over. All cannot get out at the same time. It’s like the sand in an hourglass. There are only so many ways out, ”said McNeilly.
It was a mass exodus of businesses and skyscrapers downtown.
“There are a lot of people who are just leaving town. Everyone got into their cars and left. And it became a big job getting the people out of town, ”said McNeilly. “We also tried to gather information about what was happening across the country because we thought there were still planes missing that were not tracked.”
Mind then turned to protecting areas that might be targets in Pittsburgh.
“Well, we were concerned and tried to think of all the different targets someone would have wanted to attack and in our area because no one knew how many planes and how many cities they would hit and” what places they would try to meet. But we have some places in Pittsburgh that were targets I think. Carnegie Mellon, for example, ”added McNeilly.
Although everyone rushed home with a shattered sense of security, everyone came home safely.
But protecting everyone in the days, weeks, months, and years after the 9/11 attacks became a top priority for the nation. Changes have been made that are still valid today.
This includes greater security at airports such as Pittsburgh International. Less than two months after the attack, President George W. Bush signed a law creating the Transportation Security Administration. Over the years, the TSA has added explosives detection systems, full body scanners, and advance screening measures.
Another important change was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Bush nominated then Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as first secretary.
“With his unique military background and the patriotic type he is, he couldn’t say no to President Bush,” said the then Lt. Governor Mark Schweiker.
Ridge served in Homeland Security for more than two years, working to develop the color-coded threat system and strengthen our boundaries and intelligence gathering.
One of the most lasting effects of 911 was the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a 20 year war that killed more than 4,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.
Hundreds of thousands of US-led coalition forces served in the war, including McNeilly. While still chief of the Pittsburgh Police Department, he was called up twice as a reserve with the US Coast Guard.
McNeilly is proud of his service and grateful for the men and women who fought in the wars.
“These soldiers, who have served over these 20 years, have helped prevent the United States from being attacked. So I am grateful to them and the victims who have brought them and their families to our protection. We’ve been pretty safe for the past 20 years, ”said McNeilly.
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