They were killed during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, employees from The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will gather at a church in Lower Manhattan to honour the lives of 84 colleagues who were killed during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Like many Americans, the tragedy continues to haunt Port Commerce Department director Rick Larrabee.
"I was in the north tower of the World Trade Center on the 62nd floor when the first plane hit, so I was directly impacted along with the rest of the people who worked for me. Most of us got out, but one individual, Bill Fallon, did not make it," he told TradeWinds today.
When hijacked commercial jets crashed into the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, the aftermath crippled global commerce as authorities raced to lock down US ports.
Facilities reopend days later, uncloging vital arteries that connected Americans to imported goods, but Larrabee says the decision was a difficult one.
He noted: "We all felt at the time we didn't know if another attack was coming, and people began to realize that ports were vulnerable to terrorist activities.
Rick Larrabee. "We were concerned about infrastructure being damaged, and at the time, more importantly, no one really knew what was in a container. It was at that time that a light bulb went off and the framework of the security system changed, resulting in what we know today."
While the need for heightened security was clear, Larrabee admits that the chain of command complicated the issue.
"One of the clear outcomes of that day is that we began to ask questions like: who really is in charge? We counted some 22 federal and state agencies that have jurisdiction over the port. The authorities of the captain of the port were not as clearly defined as they could have been," he said.
Over the past decade, the port has invested millions in cameras, surveillance and other pieces of security equipment while the US Coast Guard and Customs agencies have increased their physical presence.
"Customs and border inspectors are not only doing more physical inspections of containers, they are scanning for radiation and anomalies, so there is more focus on the inspection of cargoes," Larrabee said, adding: "The US Coast Guard has stepped up its efforts to inspect ships and crew manifests. As a result of these new regulations, no cargo is loaded on a ship without having it cleared by US Customs 24 hours before it leaves a foreign port."
While added security is comforting to most, it can create costly issues for cargo owners who have been forced to deal with delays. Larrabee says it can be "frustrating", but believes the system works well.
"Customs and Border Protection has a real understanding of the balance between security and commerce, we are working to keep that balance in check," the director said. "At times, it does create some additional friction, anytime you want to inspect the physical contents of a container you are obviously going to delay that container's path to its ultimate destination, but agencies have developed a pretty good protocol for what they need to do."
While the world prepares for 9/11 memorials, port facilities are on alert following what US intelligence officials have described as a "credible" terrorist threat.
When pressed about how port security could be improved, Larrabee responded: "We spend an awful lot of time looking at containers but at a port like New York where we handle probably 500,000 vehicles a year, the question of how much inspection is being done on those kind of cargoes, those are the kind of things that we think still provide room for improvement."
11 September vigils are expected to be emotional as Americans reexamine wounds that have all but healed, scars that many New Yorkers were forced to address just a few weeks ago when a rare earthquake rattled the eastern US.
"When we had the earthquake the other day, it evaporated 10 years in a heartbeat, it was not an earthquake we thought about but another terrorist incident," Larrabee told TradeWinds. "The 10 year anniversary is going to be tough for us all."
On Sunday, Larrabee has plans to attend the dedication of a 9/11 memorial in honour of Bill Fallon in Princeton, New Jersey.
"His local community is having a ceremony and that is where I have decided I want to be," he concluded.
Fallon, who handled marketing for the Port Authority, left behind his wife, Brenda; son, Christopher; mother, Margaret; sister, Patricia Quinlan; and his brothers Donald, Peter, and Stephen.
Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Class society ABS, investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald and many other maritime interests maintained offices in the World Trade Center.