“No such thing as being overprepared:” How jobs have changed since 9/11

By Jordan Holloway


The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks saw many tributes across the country. From memorial ceremonies at ground zero, to moments of silence at college football games, one fact is clear: the lives that were lost on that September morning are not to be forgotten.


There were many individuals whose jobs were impacted by the events that took place that day. TSA agents, pilots, first responders and teachers are just a few of the jobs that still face effects from the attacks– two decades later.


         Protecting the public.


Malcolm Thurgood wakes up around 3:30 a.m. during the week. He must get to Raleigh-Durham International Airport by 4:30 a.m. to begin his shift as a lead agent for the Transportation Security Administration, a job he has held since the agency was created in November of 2001.


“In 1998, I started working at RDU as a skycap handler, so I mainly just worked with travelers and their luggage,” Thurgood said. “I really enjoyed that job because I loved working with the public and making sure their travel experience was exceptional.”


Thurgood was at RDU on 9/11 and remembers clearly what he was doing when he heard the news.


“I was sending luggage down the belt when I heard the first plane had hit one of the towers,” said Thurgood. “The emotions that we all felt were overwhelming.”


When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced they were forming the TSA, Thurgood knew he wanted to join. He began his training in late September and was one of the first agents at RDU on Nov. 19, 2001.


“I knew I wanted to still work with the general public, but the impacts from the attacks changed my perspective from just wanting to serve them, to wanting to protect them as they traveled,” Thurgood said. “Knowing that if we had something like TSA 20 years ago, the attacks might have been prevented, and I want to make sure that doing my job today protects everyone and doesn’t allow something like that from ever taking place again.”


         Family first.


Chuck Gilley has been a pilot since 1987. He formerly worked for US Airways and is now with JetBlue. He mentioned that the attacks occurred on his 14th anniversary as a pilot.


“I remember I had just finished a red-eye from Seattle to Dulles and was heading to a hotel when I saw the breaking news,” Gilley said. “I had planned to get a few hours of sleep before working another red-eye later that evening but was in too much of a state of shock to be able to sleep.”


Gilley believes the attacks changed his job for the better because it prompted him to spend more time with his family, while still being able to work full-time.


“In 2001, I was always away from home in Wilmington working flights from across the country, while my wife was back home with a 3-year-old and 5-month-old,” he stated. “I sort of used the events from 9/11 as an excuse to join a different airline and work closer to home and be able to be with my family more often.”


Gilley said that after 9/11, all pilots had to go through several months of training to be prepared for similar instances if they were to happen again.


         Preventing more loss.


Matt Davis has served as a Deputy Fire Chief with New Hanover County Fire Rescue for the past 15 years. He believes that 9/11 greatly impacted the structure of fire departments around the country, but specifically the training structure within his own department.


“The events that took place that day really influenced change in first responder’s routines and response times,” Davis added. “From the lives that were lost that day, we really changed our outlook on making sure we have units in the vicinity of areas with a higher number of people, just in case something was to happen in our community, like it did on 9/11. The same structure changes we did 20 years ago in the aftermath of the attacks, we still have implemented today because in instances like this, there is no such thing as being overprepared.”


Davis also mentioned that another change in his department was asking for better access to water sources from the city.


“If you look back to 2001, and for instance in New York, a good amount of the lives that were lost were from individuals who were stuck inside the towers and fires began brewing from the impact of the aircraft hitting the building,” Davis said. “It could be argued that if those firefighters back then had better access to water, some of the fires could have been put out and lives could have been saved.”


“Luckily here in Wilmington, we were able to get approval from the city to have better access to water lines and fire hydrants that allow us to be able to put out fires before more and more damage is done,” Davis stated.


         Educating our youth.


Donna Butler has been an elementary school teacher in New Hanover County for the past 30 years. She remembers singing with her students that morning when her principal shared the news that one of the towers had been hit in New York.


“It was emotionally devastating for me personally,” Butler said. “Then, I have my students, and I have to explain to them what is going on and why everyone is crying.”


Butler believes that she has an important job in teaching her young students about the lives that were lost that day and what it means to “never forget.”


“Each year, I get new students who were not even born yet when the attacks took place,” Butler said. “Which means each year, I get another opportunity to teach them about 9/11 and how our world has changed since that day.”

Edited by Izzy D’Alo