Fear and Loathing in Chicago

by john on April 8, 2003

I’ve got an office on the 12th floor of the Sears tower that I get to every couple of weeks or so. Actually I share an office with my boss, who also is based outside of Chicago. I’ve been doing this since early 2001 and in that time I’ve seen a clear transformation with the city, all in a post-9/11 world. Things are certainly not as bad now as they were in the last months of 2001, but there is always the ever-present reminder of a city that has been changed. The metal detectors, the badge readers, the concrete barriers converted into decorative flower pots, the constant presence of security guards.

This week the emphasis has been on fire drills. Tomorrow at 11:00 unless I can find an excuse to go down to the 11th floor which isn’t participating, I get to run (well, orderly walk) down 12 flights of stairs with hundreds of others. Hopefully my laptop will still be there when I get back. As long as they don’t ask us to walk back up, I’ll be cool with it. Interestingly enough the hotel I’m at also did a fire drill today – although I didn’t hear about it until I got in tonight, via a voice-mail where the hotel manager let the guests know there was a fire drill but that we didn’t need to do anything. I guess a fire drill in a transient business like a hotel doesn’t make much sense for anyone but the employees. But it sure seems like Chicago is bracing for something.

Tenants in the Sears Tower are struggling with the impact the added security and fear is imparting on their employees. I heard today we’ve had some candidates turn down jobs solely on not wanting to work in the tower. Rumor has it a significant tenant is moving out at a cost of many millions to the company, because the employees don’t want to work in something they consider a “target.”

I was in the air on Sep. 11th, traveling from Minneapolis to Chicago. As it turned out my flight took off after two of the hijacked planes and before two of the others. By the time we landed the World Trade Centers had been hit and the Pentagon was about to be. The Sears tower closed that morning and I spent the day in the hotel watching CNN, like many others. Interestingly enough the next day everything was back to normal – no added security. Then on Thursday, the 13th, the metal detectors and security guards were added and it’s been that and more ever since.

For months after that the amount of lost productivity in the tower had to be staggering. Every time a siren went off in the street everyone was glued to the windows. CNN became a staple. The anthrax scares had us paralyzed. Things really have gotten better, but even now you can be sitting in a meeting and see people flinch when something on the floor above causes the ceiling to shake. We are dealing with it but tense nonetheless.

The fact I’ve got in office in the Sears Tower doesn’t make my mom too happy. Nor does the fact we also have office space in the Empire State Building and I’ve been there a few times in the last couple of years as well. I think she’s OK with me taking the kids to the Mall of America, but that’s been claimed as a target too.

Let’s face it – everywhere can be viewed as a target, even some small town in the Heartland. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where we get hit next as the fear factor would only increase as people could no longer comfort themselves by saying “At least I don’t work in the Sears Tower.”

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Joe Grossberg April 9, 2003 at 10:13 am

“Letís face it – everywhere can be viewed as a target, even some small town in the Heartland”

I agree and disagree.

On one hand, Tim McVeigh certainly dispelled the myth that people are safe from terrorism if they stay away from the big, coastal cities.

My mother lives in downtown Louisville, Kentucky (yes, there is a downtown!) and she said the place was evacuated on Sept. 11, and the security has greatly increased since. My brother goes to college in small-town Iowa and, there too, there is an (un)healthy level of fear.

On the other hand, a terrorist attack is far more likely in an area where it can be most effective in achieving the terrorists’ goals: places like New York (our most populous city) or Washington (our capital), where some extremist a–hole can kill as many innocent Americans as possible.

Sure, there’s some risk no matter where you go. But I live and work about two miles from the Pentagon and I can tell you that after 9/11, anthrax in the mail, the DC sniper, et al. I feel decidedly less safe here than I do in other parts of the country, and I think there is a rational component to that belief.

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