Sept. 11 attacks changed how healthcare providers prepare for and respond to emergencies

Many improvements have been made in 20 years

As the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks approaches Local 4 is looking back at lessons learned and improvements made since that tragic day.
As the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks approaches Local 4 is looking back at lessons learned and improvements made since that tragic day.

As the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks approaches Local 4 is looking back at lessons learned and improvements made since that tragic day.

The attacks had a profound impact on how healthcare providers prepare for emergencies. Before the attacks, there was an awareness of disaster medicine. There was specialized training but it was primarily focused on handling natural disasters.

The terrorist attacks turned attention in directions that can only be thought of as transformational in emergency preparedness.

Read: ‘I had a feeling of doom’: Survivor of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks recalls escape from World Trade Center

“We are so much better prepared than we were 20 years ago and I’ve been in disaster management almost 20 years. We are doing exercises many times a year. We’re doing mandatory staff training on things that you couldn’t have gotten training for 20 years,” John Snider said.

Snider is the emergency preparedness coordinator for the Henry Ford Health System. One of the biggest things to change after Sept. 11, 2001, was the recognition that everyone needed to be prepared for anything. Another big lesson from the attacks was the importance of a unified command and communication structure.

“One of the areas we could improve in is having too many people in charge so we’ve streamlined that and we’ve focused on the command staff and developing incident command training for all of our staff,” Snider said.

Read: Forensic dentist from Metro Detroit looks back on her role at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks

Disseminating critical information also became a priority. The evolution of social media has challenged that effort.

“For some reason, the COVID crisis caused a collapse in some of our communications pathways that we had set up at the federal, state, and local levels. We had plans for very integrated communication and I think Facebook took over and people stopped listening to doctors,” Snider said. “And they started listening to whoever posted on Facebook.”

From the standpoint of medical emergency preparedness, the attacks were a catalyst to prepare for subsequent events like anthrax poisoning in October of the same year, the Northeast power outage, Hurricane Katrina, SARS, Ebola, and others. Every event improved our capabilities with COVID putting them to the ultimate test.

Read: Complete 9/11 20 years later coverage


About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.