CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– 2,753 people lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 in a terrorist attack on American soil. 20 years later, our lives have been transformed.
The attacks forced us all to rethink our own security. In fact, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration was created in direct response to 9/11.
“9/11 changed everything in the way I think people think about air travel,” shared Jessica Mayle, a public affairs specialist for the Great Lakes region of TSA.
In a pre-9/11 world, you didn’t have to bring your ID to the airport. There were no assembly lines of people taking off their shoes and tossing them into buckets with all of their other personal effects, and maybe the most missed phenomenon from 20 years ago is that your family could walk with you, all the way through security, all the way to your departing gate to say goodbye.
At Willard Airport a private security company ran a much smaller scale system. Passengers walked through a metal detector.
“…And then, you know, you would get wanded if an alarm went off,” Mayle explained.
A month after 9/11, checked bag screening became law.
Nowadays the transportation security administration operates on a multi-billion dollar budget. The agency has continuously evolved alongside new threats.
In fact, the 3-ounce liquid rule was created after someone tried to bring materials to make an explosive onto a flight.
TSA PreCheck started as a pilot program in October 2011 in four airports, Mayle said. It was expanded to include enrollment centers in 2013, allowing passengers to skip through long lines by providing information ahead of time. Mayle said agents are focused on unknown passengers and PreCheck was created to speed up the process for people who they have scanned, likely multiple times, in the past.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz remembers September 11, 2001, vividly. She brought up a childhood neighbor that died in the plane that crashed into the pentagon that day.
“I think about her family on this anniversary,” she shared.
Rietz told us the immediate tightening of security after the attacks was jarring.
“We went on a little vacation a couple of months after 9/11,” she began.
“A security guard motioned me over with my little 5-year-old daughter at that time. He had me take her keds, her little white 5-year-old keds, off to check them for explosives.”
Rietz started working at the Champaign County Courthouse before 9/11. There, the change began a few years prior following a firebombing on April 8, 1997.
“A man came in with a molotov cocktail, a bottle full of gasoline, and threw it at one of the judges in the middle of a jury trial,” she remembered
Before that, four courthouse doors were open to the public.
Immediately following that incident, Sgt. Michelle Mennenga with the Court Security Division of the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office said X-ray machines and metal detectors came in.
“We increased court security division. All the entrances and exits were closed down so we had one way in and out,” she added.
Fast forward to 9/11, Sgt. Mennenga was on duty at the courthouse. She said the building had 24-hour security for weeks.
Then in 2002, the expanded courthouse opened and security technology has been improving since.
“We’ve got 13 officers that work here. One is a K9 officer,” Mennenga said. “With a combination of the dog and our camera system, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Now, like the airport, everything you bring is scanned by an x-ray machine.
“There are entire generations now that have lived with these changes,” Rietz added. “But there are a lot of us who, you know, who really remember what happened on that day and how we felt for long periods afterward.”
Target 3 also checked into the 9/11 response at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois. The lasting change is in the way they approach security altogether, according to Public Affairs. Nowadays, the stadium’s security plan is re-evaluated after every game.