Long before the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001 when thousands were killed and injured by terrorists, national security concerns were already mounting in the United States. Most attacks concerned U.S. properties located abroad, particularly embassies in Tanzania, Kuwait, Kenya, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia – but in 1993, terrorists struck U.S. soil in New York City with the truck bombing of the World Trade Center. On February 26th of that year, 7 Americans died in the tragedy.
For Coloradans, disaster struck closer to home in 1995 when home-grown terrorists, Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the neighboring state of Oklahoma. Denver Federal Judge, Richard Matsch, ruling that the duo and a third conspirator would not have received a fair trial in Oklahoma City, moved the proceedings to Denver where all three were found guilty.
The Oklahoma City bombing trial commenced in the Mile High City in April of 1997 just when final preparations were being put in place to host the G-8 conference for global economic and political leaders. President Bill Clinton welcomed the larger-than-life personalities of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, French President Jacques René Chirac, and the U.K.’s Tony Blair, among others. Security for the event was predictably heavy in the city during the event. With a terrorism trial taking place at the same time, downtown Denver was in near lockdown conditions with state, local and federal security highly visible. The concurrent security demands foisted on the city of Denver helped prepare the municipality for the highest level of safety concerns.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, remembers those days with fondness but also recalls stress associated with making sure visitors to the city were safe along with concerns of keeping Denver residents secure, continuing transportation flow downtown, and ensuring business progress. “Our preparations for international events included coordinated security training exercises with support from the federal government. We hosted World Youth Day and Pope John Paul II in ‘93, organized parades for the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos in ‘98 and ‘99, and Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche in ’96 and 2001. Essentially, we were ahead of the curve in terms of a large city hosting safe events on an international scale.”
Still, Webb points out that Denver’s increased international scrutiny means that the city needs to be ever-vigilant with regard to security. “There is a huge number of people moving here. With legalized cannabis, an increase in flights out of DIA, and the buzz around millennials relocating here, Denver has gotten more attention. With a lot of good comes some elements that are not so good. It used to be that when international weather was featured on TV, you might only see New York, Chicago and L.A. Now you see Denver in the mix. We have a growing international profile.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Less than two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Governor George W. Bush established the first Department of Homeland Security to secure the United States against security threats. 22 government departments, previously independent, began to officially coordinate their safety response. Former Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge was appointed the first director. In early 2003, the Department of Homeland Security became a cabinet-level entity.
From Customs and Border Protection to the Coast Guard and from the Transportation Security Administration to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, many areas of Homeland Security must coordinate efforts with outward looking international agencies in order to maintain a safe environment on U.S. soil. For Jeff Rathke, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, global relations, foreign policy and monitoring the international political environment are as important as domestic security programs. “How the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world helps to determine the safety of the country. Some threats to the country may be indicated by monitoring the political mood of different parts of the world. The rise of populism is not a new occurrence for example, buy may be accelerating. The U.S. should watch where that is happening and any security ramifications.”
Colorado and Homeland Security
The State of Colorado consolidated various operations in 2012 to establish the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The Division is housed within the Colorado Department of Public Safety and houses four components - Budget and Finance, Emergency Management, Preparedness, Prevention and Security. In 2014, Division Director, Kevin Klein put in place the Division’s first strategic plan which, “guides our vision to make Colorado communities safe, secure and resilient from all-hazard events including acts of terrorism.”
The Division publishes a ‘Daily Status Report’ on their website, informing the public as to the location and availability of key employees, and the condition of potential security issues including firefighting, transportation and telecommunications. Links to resources and training opportunities are included in the report along with any telling maps and weather status.
The Division’s website is also linked to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) which informs of regional or national security alerts. Besides the website link, the NTAS alerts can be accessed via Facebook and Twitter for subscribers.
Keeping Your Family and Community Safe
The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has established a practical website providing information to prevent and report security concerns. www.ReadyColorado.com suggests three tactics for staying safe: 1) Make a Plan – Create a written and discussed plan for your home, office, your children’s school, and your neighborhood. The safety of people with disabilities and pets should also be taken into account. Emergency kits should be compiled in your place of work, in your car and at home. 2) Stay Informed – Sign up for alert systems and be aware of any local emergencies. 3) Get Involved – Sign up for a training class and/or volunteer your time. From learning new skills to helping organizations prevent and recover from emergencies, Coloradans are encouraged to volunteer time to one of the numerous organizations listed on the website.