Anniversary dates have a particular emotional resonance, of course—but will September 11, 2002, actually be any riskier than any other day?
"Historically, security has tracked dates of significant incidents, because groups that have had [bad] things happen to them may replay those dates and have incidents or demonstrations," says Richard P. Werth, CPP, president of Event and Meeting Security Services, based in Franklin, Tenn. For example, Timothy McVeigh chose to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the April 19 anniversary of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents, allegedly in response to them.
But, says Werth, the significance is usually for those who feel they’ve been victimized, not for the perpetrators. "As far as we’re aware, there’s no significance to the September 11 date. For us there is, because we’re the victims here. This date is significant to Americans. But it’s probably not overly significant to the terrorists that they chose that date."
Nonetheless, he agrees there will be special tensions. "There are lots of weirdos out there who will call bomb threats in just because whatever triggers them gets triggered by the date. That could create some non-serious threat situations.
"I think the issue is emotional," he says. "People are going to say to themselves, ‘Do we want to do this? Is there a chance something could happen? Let’s not take that chance.’ But in a lot of cases, these dates have already been booked. So, for an association that goes ahead with its meeting, they may see a falloff in registration. It’s certainly a possibility."
To help September meetings go smoothly, Werth advises, "Realistically assess the risks of what could happen to you. If you’re XYZ Group that nobody knows about outside of your membership, you’re probably not the target of any terrorist group. Is the city you’re going to a potential target? Are there certain buildings in this place that we want to avoid? Those are all possibilities. But the probability of incidents is likely to be quite low. Most people aren’t going to be meeting in what would be targeted terrorist venues."
Once you’ve evaluated the risks, the next step is to "reassure the attendees that you’ve done the right things for emergency planning, that you’re prepared to deal with any crises that come up," Werth says. "That should be a standard part of any event anyhow. The planners have to play through the worst-case scenarios and how they’re going to deal with them. Okay, air traffic is shut down in the area. What do we do? Someone gets sick. What do we do? We have to evacuate because of a bomb threat. What do we do? Planners are obligated to do those things anyhow, no matter the size of the event, the dates of the event, or the relevance to anything. And they’re going to have to comfort the attendees, starting probably about now, that measures are being taken to assess the risk and provide appropriate security."
But with adequate planning, September meetings can commemorate last year’s attacks without being sidelined by them. "I think it will be more of an emotional issue," says Werth. "It’ll be a period of reflection again. But the actual risks appear, at this point, to be pretty low."