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New York’s mindset 8 years after 9/11

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KAI RYSSDAL: Throughout the country today, people are remembering the terrorist attacks of eight years ago. This anniversary also marks the first National Day of Service and Remembrance. President Obama designated this as a day for volunteerism earlier this year.

And for a lot of people, the memories have faded some with time. In New York City, though, September 11th is still very much on people’s minds. As our New York bureau chief Marketplace’s Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: I got a taste of how skittish New Yorkers still are earlier this summer. I was on the subway at Wall Street station. Suddenly, what sounded like an explosion came from the back of the train. People poured out of the cars and ran for the exits. I joined them. One of my shoes fell off, so I kicked off the other one, not sure I’d ever see them again.

Outside on the sidewalk, we tried to figure out what had happened.

Nicole: So we stopped and I think a train hit us in the back.

Nicole didn’t want to give her last name.

Nicole: And then people just started flipping out and running. So I tried to walk and then it was like walk or get trampled. Some man shoved me into the wall.

Another passenger, George Nassef, worried it might be a biological attack.

Scott: Have you seen anything like this before in New York?

George Nassef: 9/11.

Scott: You were here for 9/11?

Nassef: Yeah.

Scott: So is this kind of reaction understandable?

Nassef: The panic is reminiscent of that. I don’t know what actually happened, compressor could have blown, but it was a loud enough bang to get everybody running.

Only after I’d recovered my shoes and made my way to the office, did I find out what had happened. Some cables had fallen onto the train, making the loud noise. Heavy smoke had forced the evacuation of the station behind us, but nobody was hurt. Everything was fine. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sheepish for being so afraid.

Paul Light: I think it is a New York state of mind.

Paul Light teaches public service at New York University.

Light: I think memories have faded over time, but I don’t think it takes much for people to jump.

Light says that state of mind has helped the city prepare for the worst. He’s been studying disaster readiness at businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. He says New York holds up well.

Light: I think New York gets it. The police department’s very good. Businesses have worked very hard. We’re still relatively weak on transportation. Some vulnerability in the ports, cargo and so forth.

Light says businesses all over the country aren’t worried enough about cyber threats.
And he says the financial crisis and recession have taken some of the attention away from security.

Chris Grniet is a consultant with Kroll Security Group. He says financial firms, facing billions of dollars in losses, are focused on survival.

Chris Grniet: If they’re in a crisis of their own, and let’s talk about the major banking institutions, I don’t believe that the senior management of those organizations are particularly focused on the day-to-day security issues.

Grniet says firms that have to cut costs may be tempted to cut back on security. But he says many financial firms invested heavily after 9/11. They built back-up facilities in other cities. Many New Yorkers worried that big financial employers might leave Lower Manhattan altogether.

Elizabeth Berger says that didn’t happen. She’s president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. Berger points out Goldman Sachs plans to open its new $2 billion headquarters downtown this year.

Elizabeth Berger: Bank of New York is here, Deutsche Bank is here, AIG is here. There are a variety of financial firms, large and small, that are still here. Of course, with the paradigm shift in financial services, there has been some shrinkage. That’s not deniable. But Wall Street remains Wall Street.

And New Yorkers carry on, even with the anxiety that comes from living in a city that’s been a target. One image stays with me from my own subway scare: A security guard standing in the basement. As all of us went running past, he stood like a brick wall, calm and stoic, ready for whatever came.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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