June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Safety forces say impact of 9/11 terrorist attacks won’t be forgotten

“The United States lost its innocence on Sept. 11, 2001. For the first time in (almost 200 years) we were directly attacked by an enemy on our soil. That feeling will never leave,” Medina Police Chief Pat Berarducci said. “I think 9/11 is as real today as it was 10 years ago … I will never forget.”

On the day of the attacks, Berarducci was a senior special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He said the feeling of being under attack is just as raw now as it was 10 years ago, and he commits himself to not forgetting.

Pat Berarducci

Pat Berarducci

Police forces are is just one of many components that keep the county safe, Berarducci said, and partnerships are key.

“Whether you’re an officer in Montville Township, Medina Township, Medina or the sheriff’s office, we all talk the same language now,” he said. “Before, it wasn’t like that. It makes everything tremendously easier. A lot of it comes from the partnerships we all have with each other … we work well together, and I think we always have.

“9/11 created a sense of urgency that will never be forgotten. You’re no longer planning for something that may never happen — you’re planning for what happened on 9/11. You’re planning for your school to come under gunfire, or your hospital to be contaminated or any catastrophic events.”

Berarducci said an important part of the teamwork throughout the county is the Emergency Management Agency.

Christina Fozio, EMA director, said without partnerships, the county would not be able to hold up in any emergency.

“Our mission is to support the county,” Fozio said. “Our focus is on those first responders in any situation, and decisions are always made collectively through our partnerships. You can’t do anything without each other and I think that realization is a direct result of 9/11.”

Fozio said the support of the federal government has had a major impact on the EMA’s role.

“There have been significant changes since 9/11 … the support federally has made a large impact on what role the EMA plays throughout the county,” she said. “Following 9/11, Homeland Security grants have become a primary part of our funding and our allowance to help where we can.”

Fozio said one of the bigger projects to come out of grant money is the return of a mobile command unit, which has been shut down for a few months.

“The mobile command unit is utilized countywide, and although we don’t have it back yet, it will be soon and it will make a big impact on first responders,” she said. “We were able to assist the Medina County sheriff’s office in purchasing a SWAT vehicle and have upgraded dispatch centers. There are a lot of changes coming, and it’s only going to help us continue to grow.”

Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell was the city’s police chief on Sept. 11, 2001, and he said he remembers the changes that followed.

“The precautions and the planning and the proactive activities increased as a result,” Hanwell said. “We didn’t have the impact of the event occurring here along with the trauma and injuries, but here it changed the way we do things. We started to look at infrastructure things, buildings and building security. Should there be cameras to monitor activity so you have a record of it? 9/11 has made us look at life differently.”

Hanwell couldn’t say if it was a direct result of Sept. 11, but the city has since installed emergency wireless buttons throughout the municipal buildings.

“They are in strategic locations throughout the city, such as in City Hall and at the municipal court. If something goes wrong, it rings right into the Police Department and the right people are alerted quickly,” he said. “We’ve tried to put some of those safeguards in place. That’s always a difficult balance because you want it to be safe for the constituents coming in, you want it to be safe for the personnel here, but at the same respect, you don’t want it to be a fortress.

“That’s a difficult balance. We’re just not used to that, but we had to become comfortable (with it) after 9/11.”

Berarducci and Hanwell agreed that the biggest thing that has changed is the high level of planning for disaster.

“My entire vision and idea of safety has changed as a result of 9/11,” Hanwell said. “We want to try to prevent and be proactive. It absolutely caused a new awareness and a level of alertness. It no doubt changed how we approach things now.”

Berarducci agreed, saying that there is a lot of disaster management planning.

“Today, we are proactive and more prepared than we ever were before 9/11,” he said. “Safety forces meet together, and although we may disagree, we also agree, but those meetings and discussions weren’t even going on 20 to 25 years ago.

“When I came to Medina, I brought the lessons that I learned from 9/11,” he said. “Today, we routinely plan and work with our schools, work with our hospital and with businesses to give advice and consultations. The framework for our response, regardless of what occurs, has been set.”

Contact Dani Orr at (330) 721-4049 or dorr@medina-gazette.com.