10 Years Later: The State of Safety in a Post-9/11 World

Sept. 1, 2011
Two experts consider how Sept. 11 influenced safety and the EHS profession at large.

The Impact on the EHS Profession

The aftermath of 9/11 has impacted the EHS profession in several ways. One example is the increased focus for emergency preparedness and response continuous improvement in formalized Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. Furthermore, there is increased awareness in most companies, municipalities and the public-at-large as employees and citizens are more vigilant in bringing security concerns to the forefront and taking the necessary precautions to minimize risk to their organizations and the community.

Many EHS professionals assumed greater responsibilities that included security in the aftermath of 9/11. Thus, many organizations began providing training and awareness in security and overall emergency preparedness and response. Colleges and universities increasingly offered courses or degrees in this area after 9/11, as well.

On a larger scale, 9/11 has presented challenges relative to finding the appropriate balance between security procedures, overall protection and the investment necessary to protect employees and the general public. Similar to the risk management approach used by EHS professionals, it is important for organizations to conduct a cost-benefit analysis when deploying safety and security measures to protecting the work force. The insurance sector has placed greater emphasis for companies to demonstrate the effectiveness for strategies developed and resources deployed that will mitigate personal and physical risk to people and property.

The aftermath of 9/11 and its impact on the EHS profession have greatly affected how EHS professionals and other emergency management service providers must implement processes that will ensure the safest environment possible and greatly decrease the probability for another 9/11.

Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP
Vice President of Safety& Health, ABB Inc.
Past President of American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)

Building a Caring Culture

Everyone can recall the heroism demonstrated on 9/11 and the days that followed. Suddenly, the public saw firemen, emergency medical staff and policemen as altruistic heroes. The active caring these professionals perform routinely in emergency situations was depicted in graphic detail by the media. This tragedy moved people to realize their vulnerability and mortality, to increase their appreciation and gratitude for family and friends and to recognize the mutual and reciprocal interdependency amongst those beyond their family and friends. It seems, however, this beneficial cultural shift was short-lived.

I am convinced the terrorists’ attacks, along with continual media reports of other terrorist activities, have influenced people to become increasingly mistrusting of strangers, and to restrict their pro-social behaviors to their immediate family and small groups of close friends. Every day, we are reminded of the possibility of another terrorist attack and this fear fuels mistrust of strangers, as well as prejudice and stereotyping.

Our safety cannot entirely be assured by security and law-enforcement officers, nor by safety professionals. These personnel surely can help to keep us safe and secure, but their involvement is not enough. They need continual support from a culture in which everyone is vigilantly attentive to environmental and behavioral dynamics that could harm people. Developing such a culture is much easier said than done, given the prejudice, stereotyping, egoism and restricted interpersonal communication influenced dramatically by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But must we wait for another horrific event like 9/11 to regain the actively caring mindset we had in the fall of 2001?

This is not just about a few altruistic heroes; this is about citizens everywhere contributing to an actively caring culture by performing intentional acts of kindness each and every day. People who act on a daily basis to prevent the need for heroic reaction to tragedies like 9/11 become proactive, unsung heroes, contributing to everyone’s safety and security.

E. Scott Geller, Ph. D.
Alumni Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech
Senior Partner, Safety Performance Solutions

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