‘It has been a safer Charlotte’: Queen City learns resilience, recovery post 9/11

CHARLOTTE — The fallout from Sept. 11 has stuck with the Queen City in many areas, including the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“I remember when traveling, my friends and family were able to walk me to the gate,” Transportation Security Agency supervisor Barbara Cousan said. “They were able to do that. Security wasn’t a big deal.”

The TSA was created after 9/11 to screen passengers and luggage at the country’s airports.

[20 years later, Channel 9 remembers 9/11]

Cousan said that the screening process has changed as the threats and the technology have evolved. After 20 years, it has become a critical part of traveling.

“Many passengers appreciate what we do,” the supervisor said. “They let us know they appreciate the job we do, and they thank us for being here and keeping the traveling public safe.

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Channel 9 reporter Mark Becker asked Cousan if the airways are safer than they were 20 years ago.

“Oh, absolutely! We are safer now than we were,” Cousan replied.

Chris Swecker was the special agent in charge of North Carolina’s FBI office on 9/11.

“We absolutely have adapted,” said Swecker, retired special agent. “We’ve given up some freedoms in some sense -- at the airport.”

After 9/11, Swecker coordinated law enforcement response locally in case of a terrorist attack.

Swecker pointed out how Charlotte’s major businesses uptown have followed their lead.

“And then private security began to ramp up on our advice,” he said. “You look over at the financial institution to my right, there’s an armed police officer standing there. He wasn’t there before 9/11.”

Extra security has become part of uptown’s landscape over time. Many don’t notice the changes.

“There’s a ‘Report it if you see it’ mindset, and there are lots of cameras,” Swecker said. “There are probably twice or three times the number of cameras downtown that we would have had prior to 9/11.”

[9/11: Remembering the attacks on America 19 years later]

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles was an assistant city manager in 2001.

“I think it was a pivot point for a safer country, a safer America,” Lyles told Becker. “It certainly has been a safer Charlotte.”

In the 20 years since 9/11, the city forged ahead. Charlotte’s metro population is more than twice what it was when the attacks happened.

Charlotte’s airport has also taken off.

By 2019, the number of passengers here had also doubled, which was then crippled by the pandemic.

COVID-19 has posed another threat to the world, including Charlotte.

“When we look back at this, maybe our children will look at this and say, ‘What lessons did we learn to go forward?’” Lyles pondered.

(Watch the video below: US commemorates 9/11; thousands expected at ground zero)