September 11, 2001

By Pat McCrory (as told to Richard Thurmond)

I was in a meeting at the Convention and Visitors Bureau with Melvin Tennant when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. At that point in time we thought it was probably just a small private plane.

After the meeting, I was on my way to the Dell Curry Bowling Tournament for charity. On the way there I was listening to CBS radio when the second plane struck and then my phone rang in my car. It was my wife Ann. She said you better get back to the office. I came back here to the fifteenth floor of the Government Center, looked out of my office and saw people streaming out of the towers.

I remember pulling the city manager out of the staff meeting, going Pam, this is serious. I also had the police chief, the fire chief, and other operational people all coming to my office. We were all watching CNN.

First, we had to meet with some immediate transportation needs downtown. Second we had some immediate airport issues because we had two or three thousand people who were going to be stranded at the airport, because all flights were immediately grounded.
I asked the operations people to go out and do their plan. I said "You guys go figure out what needs to be done now here in Charlotte and come back to me and let me know what role I need to play."

It was an immediate thought that everything has changed. No doubt this was an attack. And was Charlotte safe? The first thing that came to our mind was the financial center, because of the World Trade Center. How do we communicate to our citizens? Also, how do we make sure there is not any panic?

I think it sunk in shortly after it happened, when we were watching on CNN. When we saw the first tower go down, my instincts told me the world has changed. And we knew it was an attack. This wasn't an accident.

Giuliani was starting to become the spokesman for the nation. And since that day the role of mayor has changed. One of the major roles now is reassurance.

[Before September 11 happened], the term homeland security never existed. . . . And now it's become a major part of my job as mayor. I never would have imagined two years ago that today I would be playing a role in meeting with the President, meeting with Tom Ridge and his staff on homeland security.

Second, this feeling of vulnerability and need for reassurance continues. And we as leaders have a responsibility to give that constant reassuring.

Third, our economy took a major hit. Since that day our travel, our hotel, restaurant, taxicab, rental car, and the list goes on, the business has not yet recovered. It's had a slight increase, but I'm not sure we'll ever get back to the levels of travel and tourism. And we also know that it can change at a moment's notice if another attack occurs.
And we have a new debate which is yet to be resolved. And that is, determining where the line is between free access and a bunker mentality.

It has severely impacted my emotional mindset. That day still haunts me. Part of it may be because I was at the World Trade Center emergency operations center with Mayor Giuliani two months prior.

We now have to think not only of ways to respond to emergencies, we have to think of ways to prevent them. It's made us look at communications and potential cell activity even here in Charlotte. It's developed an incredible relationship with the FBI here locally. It's changed my role and relationship with the White House.

I think in a moment's notice something else could happen, and we have to be prepared. Both physically and mentally. And I think the leaders of today and tomorrow are going to have be prepared mentally to how they would respond to not only an attack that would occur in their own city but to an attack that occurs anywhere in the nation, because people are going to wonder are we next.

Pat McCrory, an employee of Duke Energy, is mayor of Charlotte. This fall, he is running for an unprecedented fifth two-year term.