No one event has had more of an effect on modern American life than the attacks of 9/11. The aftermath of terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. altered everything from attitudes about patriotism to how planes are boarded. But although the public’s attitudes changed, an even bigger shift happened within the government. The professionals who work in the public sector saw a paradigm shift in their jobs. The way Americans stay, and feel, safe has changed, and it has caused ripple effects throughout the government and even in some corners of the private sector.
The Pre-9/11 Paradigm
Before the attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center and Flight 93, there was certainly a vast and complex government network working to protect citizens. However, many ways that the public sector worked were siloed. Especially when related to homeland security, agencies tended to initiate, work on and complete projects on their own. Even if their goals and aspirations overlapped, organizations did not necessarily share invaluable information with each other.
Failures of Homeland Security
The 9/11 Commission, charged with investigating why the attacks happened, how they were executed and how they can be avoided in the future, found several failures of agencies charged with defending the security of American borders. The report suggested that “The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamic extremists had given plenty of warnings that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers.”
Specifically identifying the CIA and FBI, the commission found that the U.S. administration had received multiple warnings from both other governments and intelligence services. If agencies had been able to communicate and cross-verify reports, the plot could have potentially been identified and stopped.
The Separation of Public Safety
Similar to their national security counterparts, the attacks of 9/11 greatly affected how traditional public safety departments (police, fire and EMS) operated on a daily basis. Prior to the attacks, individual agencies and departments also struggled with clear and effective communication, with police and fire agencies in many communities unable to share the context or meanings of what they were prepared for. This lack of communication led to difficulty both with dispatchers trying to coordinate the responses to emergencies and with the public who were seeking help in these situations.
Changes to Government Structure
In the immediate aftermath to 9/11, it became increasingly clear that all levels of government needed to make organizational changes to improve communication related to national security. Some changes, like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, were massive, while others were very small. However, they remain the largest changes in post-9/11 policy and affect modern public administration on a daily basis.
The Department of Homeland Security
On November 25, 2002, the Homeland Security Act established a new Department of Homeland Security. Its goal: to consolidate executive branch organizations related to the protection of American citizens into one cabinet agency. This new department brought together agencies that manage a variety of different functions, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Transportation Security Administration. DHS immediately became the third largest cabinet department by employees and in 2009 was given a $40 billion budget.
The Patriot Act and Growth of Government Surveillance
Less than two months after the attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act of 2011. This sweeping legislation allowed the government to enhance the tools of law enforcement, investigation and prevention of a future terrorist attack. It included increased wiretaps, easier access to business records and the expanded surveillance of terrorist groups and those suspected of terrorist activities. This greatly strengthened the U.S. government’s ability to gather information on possible threats.
The Patriot Act began a trend of government surveillance that spread far beyond one piece of legislation. Improved technology allowed intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency to have extensive access to information for the sake of national security. In 2013, the Washington Post revealed that an NSA program was taking massive of amounts of data from the general public. This included cell phone records, Internet communications and a variety other modes of information. The legality of this program, called PRISM, is still being called into question.
The Impact on Public Safety
To examine how 9/11 impacted public administration on a local level, look no further than the public safety departments who would respond first in an emergency. As with several federal agencies, one major goal for local groups was to improve communications. On federal, state, county and local levels, agencies worked to better talk with each other at all times. This included the creation of joint task forces, new electronic systems that share data and federal access to state and local systems.
After 9/11, public safety departments worked to improve the awareness and visibility they had around local communities. Initiatives like statewide drills and improved community outreach gave the public important information on how public safety worked. It also helped inform communities about how to respond in situations of emergency. Allowing the general public the opportunity to see their first responders in person helps build trust and develops a stronger sense of safety.
Improved Use of Technology
The alteration of American public administration after 9/11 was guided by another paradigm shift, the explosion of the Internet. As mentioned, the increased access to technology has expanded the government’s ability to gather information on possible threats to homeland security. In today’s government, cutting edge technology is changing how the public sector operates on a constant basis.
Embracing Social Media
As billions of people across the globe share their lives on social networks, the U.S. government has embraced this vast cavalcade of information. Social media is used for everything from intelligence gathering to helping inform the general public about what the government actually does. Each government agency has a Twitter and Facebook account, where they share news and, at times, emergency information. Although some question whether this information is used for surveillance, there is no doubt that the quick and pointed dissemination of information is helpful at all levels of government.
Before 9/11, boarding a plane was an easy business. Today, it’s a long process that seeks to prevent a similar attack from happening again. Much of the front lines of homeland security are patrolled by officials with state of the art scans. This also extends to the U.S. Coast Guard, who use technology to ensure ports and waterways stay safe as well. Since 9/11, the Coast Guard has become a more hands-on agency in the day-to-day protection of the general public, and has become an integral part of homeland security.
Experiences from An Expert
An Associate Professor at Point Park University’s Public Administration program, Robert Skertich, Ph.D offers decades of experience in emergency management. Skertich has worked at all levels of government in responding to emergencies and disasters, as well as in non-governmental response and relief. He has presented several studies on disaster management in national and international conferences and summits.
Creating Standard Plans for Emergencies
Skertich believes that the primary change that 9/11 had on emergency response was a philosophical one. “It made government agencies realize they could no longer say ‘it’s not my job,” he explained. Skertich noted that before the attacks non-emergency personnel had little or no role in disaster response, but today every group has a goal as a part of a larger plan.
This larger plan is a standardized framework that is ubiquitous among communities of all sizes. “Whether you’re working at the federal, state or local level; the framework is standardized along the same lines,” Skertich added. “It standardizes the way we plan and how we command. When you have large numbers of people coming together, there has to be standard rules.”
The Department of Homeland Security
As a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical Team, Skertich has had significant experience working with Department of Homeland Security officials. “They’re the keepers of the National Response Framework,” he explained. “They provide the funding and that is based on whether the plans are standardized.”
The DHS is the key federal entity providing funding for the emergency management framework, and all requests must reflect the national standards. “We have to show how funding supports training goals in the National Response Framework,” said Skertich. “They want to see how I am going to use this money in a planning or response preparedness goal.”
How Emergencies are Managed Well
Skertich notes that while the media reports on emergencies that have management mishaps there are plenty of situations that are handled well. “The emergencies that are managed well are the ones you don’t see on the news,” he described. “There are thousands of successes that happen every day that the public never hears about.”
Today Skertich’s team and others around the country can easily plug into the emergency response plan no matter where they are. “I went to New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy and was able to directly plug into their emergency response plan,” he explained. “In 1995 we didn’t have that system.”
The Lasting Impact of 9/11
Despite the improved security of our homeland, Skertich says most measures are here to stay. “To this day I walk into an airport and feel that the ease is gone,” he describes. “But a lot of security is good common sense and completely necessary.” It’s clear that this kind of security and preparation is the new normal.
The Evolution Continues
The events of 9/11 will continue to alter how our government works for decades. Although there is no doubt that public administration has truly shifted, those shifts will continue to come. Tomorrow’s public administration professionals will have new challenges to overcome and new goals to meet. Education will play an increasingly important role in the future of public administration. In the past, having the right degree was not a necessity, but the increasing complexity of public administration is making a credential in public administration more valuable than ever before.