Is Centre County really different today, 16 years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the airplane that plunged into a field in Somerset County?
Yes. Maybe the county doesn’t have as many things that have changed as New York City or Washington, D.C., but there are definitely still things that aren’t the same because of that day. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In the days after the attack, there was concern for what might be other targets. In Centre County, there was no doubt that the biggest bull’s-eye would be Penn State. That led to increased communication and cooperation between the university and different levels of government.
“The information and resource sharing that has taken place in the past decade-plus is light-years ahead of where it would have been, according to my colleagues here who deal in emergency management every day,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. “There is a lot that happens behind the scenes and a large number of individuals at Penn State are consistently training and retraining to attain the most-current certifications and learn best practices for keeping a community safe.”
Some of the most obvious changes for the public are seen at events like Nittany Lion football games, where you can no longer go in and out of Beaver Stadium because of a “no re-entry” policy, and you can’t bring in a big purse because of a “no bags” rule.
Centre County Sheriff Bryan Sampsel said that’s reflective of an overall increased emphasis on safety today.
“It’s the world we live in now,” he said.
Sampsel’s deputies are also involved in another high-profile protection area, University Park Airport. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, the operations were protected by the military, but it wasn’t long before the airport contracted with the sheriff’s department to step in. That five-year contract has come up for renewal twice.
“Obviously, operations and expectations of passengers at the University Park Airport — like all airports — have changed significantly as well, and people have seen a dramatic change in the nation’s concerns about safety,” Powers said.
Sampsel said that, overall, law enforcement is more aware of potential danger today and is on the lookout for things that are unusual. They aren’t the only ones.
People are more aware of their surroundings and continue to have some level of vigilance at events and in everyday life that they never had before 9/11.
Brian Bittner, Penn State’s director of emergency management
“Beyond emergency management, there has been a general change in the level of awareness among the general public for overall safety,” Brian Bittner, Penn State’s director of emergency management, said. “People are more aware of their surroundings and continue to have some level of vigilance at events and in everyday life that they never had before 9/11.”
But beyond the safety issue, there is the history aspect.
“What's changed is Sept. 11 will never be just another late summer date. Sixteen years after one of our major turning points, the day has joined Dec. 7 and Nov. 22 as forever darkly marked in our history. Consequently, schools will bear part of the responsibility of preserving the history for new generations, just as we've done with Pearl Harbor and Kennedy's assassination,” State College Area School District spokesman Chris Rosenblum said.
There won’t be a large school program on Monday, but the historical event will be addressed in individual classes with discussions and age-appropriate books.
Penn State deals with additional areas of study.
I think, speaking from a more personal view of society, you could tell that it changed America’s view of the world and shattered our sense of security.
Lisa Powers, Penn State spokeswoman
“In academe, there are new areas of research that came to the forefront to help our nation prevent or intercept terrorism. It also spawned study in areas such as immigration and policy decisions, as well as profiling, privacy and surveillance, to name just a few,” said Powers. “I think, speaking from a more personal view of society, you could tell that it changed America’s view of the world and shattered our sense of security.”