For those old enough to remember, most will recall what they were doing and how they felt when first hearing about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. and the plane crash in a Pennsylvania field.
It has become a day etched into our minds. People around the world watched news reports of planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers, watching the towers burn and eventually collapsing. A total of 2,996 people lost their lives on 9/11.
Shock, anger, fear and sadness were just some of the emotions Americans were dealing with that day and the days that followed. Even though New York is over 1,000 miles away, many Minnesotans were anxious about what could happen next.
Maple Grove Mayor Mark Steffenson had been in his role as mayor for about three months when 9/11 happened.
“I was sitting in my family room getting ready to go to work when the CNBC news or NBC news broke about a potential incident at the towers,” he said of how he found about the attacks. “They then showed the building burning and in live time I watched the second plane come in and hit the second tower.”
He said he sat watching his television for the rest of the morning, watching until after both towers went down.
“[My] immediate thoughts were it was a terrorist attack and then the worry for the people who would have died,” he added. “And then the realization that life had changed as we knew it.”
Steffenson recalled the following day after 9/11, he was at his home in the morning taking care of city issues related to the 9/11 attacks while watching the news instead of going to work. “All of sudden there was a sonic boom and I believe two fighter jets went screaming over the valley behind our house,” he said. “There was a no-fly ban in place and an individual on either Fish Lake or Eagle Lake had a float plane and had taken off. The fighter jets were circling over Minneapolis and they went sent to either escort the plane back down or I suppose shoot it down. That was a frightening experience and brought home how things had changed overnight.”
In Steffenson’s new role as mayor, he knew he had a responsibility to address any issues concerned citizens might have. “What are we going to do to protect ourselves, how are we going to prevent this from happening here,” he said. “Obviously, Minneapolis was also a big city with potential targets downtown.”
The days and months following the attacks had the city of Maple Grove and Steffenson working hard. “We reexamined our response process and our safety protocols,” he said. “We worked with other cities and agencies on further terrorism concerns. I believe we thought additional attacks might come from anywhere.”
Steffenson recalls the city taking more moderate actions at the time of the attacks. “We made sure that our water supply was protected and not of concern,” he said. “I believe there was also some concern about the nuclear plants in Monticello. Maple Grove is a first responder for the nuclear plants if there is an accident or incident so that group of individuals was alerted.”
In the 20 years since 9/11, the city of Maple Grove has continued to grow and become more sophisticated. Steffenson said the only major change in how the city operates since the attacks is the security at the Monticello nuclear plants, of which the city is a first responder.
Sept. 11, 2001, caused some people to reflect. Steffenson included. “I think it created change in myself in the realization that these horrible things can really happen anywhere including here,” he said. “And that we need to do what we can to prevent it, but also be prepared if something does happen.”
He feels the attacks fundamentally changed the way people did a lot of things, changes that today people might not recognize were caused by 9/11.
When asked to reflect now how the attacks changed him, Steffenson said, “It reminded me of Jacob Wetterling. When that horrible event occurred, parents changed the way they let their kids go out to play. I am not sure we even realized it. I think in many ways the same thing happened [with 9/11], we just changed the way we did some things, not even realizing why.”
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