The nation changed overnight after the tragic terrorist attacks that hit the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks, which claimed 2,977 lives, led to immediate new security measures that affected many aspects of daily life in Kodiak.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, all flights were grounded, including those in Alaska. The Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport closed temporarily, and access to the Kodiak Launch Complex — now known as the Pacific Spaceport Complex–Alaska — was closed to the public.
This story helps us remember all the changes Kodiak faced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We also are including a 12-page special publication in this issue that allows you to read what many locals were going through on that day and at that time.
U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak immediately tightened security the day of the attack, closing it to all civilians except employees and instituting a 100 percent ID check for those entering the base. While search-and-rescue operations continued, training flights were suspended in compliance with the federal ban on air traffic.
The Red Cross Kodiak chapter immediately offered to help local residents contact family members in New York and Washington D.C., but could do little else since the island’s medical facilities were not equipped or authorized to conduct massive blood donation operations.
Schools remained open on the day of the attacks, but Kodiak High School did have to cancel sporting events a few days later because there was no way to guarantee flight service.
The impact on local businesses varied greatly. GCI, for instance, reported an increase in customer orders as residents of Kodiak and beyond tried to keep up-to-date on breaking news coming out of New York and Washington, D.C.
But other companies weren’t as lucky.
U.S. Postal Service deliveries coming and going from the island were delayed due to flight restrictions, and all local charter flight companies could tell would-be customers is that their planes were grounded.
Local hotels offered reduced rates to those stranded on the island due to the flight ban, as did other local businesses such as Ardingers and Mill Bay Coffee. The flight restrictions had impacts on rural Alaska as well, which were relying on flights to deliver food and other essential items.
Commercial flights were allowed to resume on Sept. 14, and new security measures were in effect by Sept. 17. Concrete barriers blocked short-term parking, and passengers had to be dropped off at the gates or in the area for long-term parking. Increased baggage screening was implemented, including the use of X-ray machines and metal detectors.
Coast Guard military police and Alaska State Troopers began to provide extended security support to enforce new FAA regulations as the Alaska Department of Transportation had a lack of trained security personnel. Eventually, local National Guardsmen were called up to perform security duties at the airport; two Guardsmen remained on duty for the next several months whenever the airport was open.
Coast Guard Base Kodiak also implemented new security measures that created long lines as military police checked IDs at the gate. Numerous Coast Guard facilities once available to the general public were closed off, including ball fields, the recreational building, boat ramp and theater. Only the Bear Valley Golf Course remained open for civilian use.
When Base Kodiak re-opened on Sept. 26, new regulations included a requirement to head to specific destinations and provide valid IDs, vehicle registration and insurance. The Coast Guard would continue to remain on heightened security throughout the next year.
The Alaska Marine Highway System also stepped up security for all ferries, including passenger requirements to show IDs and tighter baggage control. Local freight companies also began to tighten their security measures. Empty containers were checked, sealed and then spot checked again by the Coast Guard, and cars being shipped to Kodiak could not be stocked with personal items.
Kodiak Launch Complex security guards began checking IDs of people traveling on the road to Narrow Cape or Fossil Beach, locations within the complex’s area of operation. Closer to town, hiking areas in Spruce Cape near the perimeter of the Naval Special Warfare Center Detachment were closed to the public due to heightened security measures.
By October, flights had returned to normal, but new security measures continued to impact wait and loading times. Parking solutions at the local level were also an issue, as vehicles could not park within 300 feet of the airport terminal.
Concerns of anthrax in the mail also became a concern, placing another impact on state resources. In November, the Kodiak Post Office advised residents to take strange mail to law enforcement. Those that were turned in would be shipped to Anchorage for analysis if deemed appropriate, though a few residents reported letters just ended up being applications for employment aboard fishing vessels.
By the end of the year, one Alaska National Guard unit based in Anchorage was called up and deployed to Kuwait to serve as high-risk rescuers for that small Middle East country and important U.S. ally.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 also set up new tasks for military branches, including the Coast Guard. This included the creation of the Sea Marshals, tasked with random vessel security boardings in Alaska waters, as well as shoreside security for maritime traffic. The Sea Marshal command office in Anchorage oversaw Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Kenai.
Long-time residents may recall the random boarding, in January 2002, of the natural gas tanker Polar Eagle by a Coast Guard transit pilot until it reached port in Nikiski. Another routine freight ship boarding, toward the end of February 2002, resulted in two ships being held in Unalaska until their captains could explain apparent discrepancies.
The war in Afghanistan, which started on Oct. 7, 2001, saw a surge in recruiting for all branches, including locally in Kodiak. In addition, the Alaska National Guard began training for security by sending service members, including 17 from Kodiak, to an Oregon training site.
Security procedures continued to be in place at Alaska airports even when Alaska State Troopers began to transition out of the role in April 2002. For smaller airports, such as Kodiak, that presented a problem as we didn’t have our own security force. State officials and lawmakers began insisting that the newly created Transportation Security Administration begin providing security for Alaska airports.
A year after the terrorist attacks in New York City and D.C., new security measures were set, and new Homeland Security policies were implemented. The Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport began to install machines that could detect just trace elements of certain substances, and additional security personnel were added.
New federal policies had dictated that private airport screenings would need to be taken over by the federal government by November 2002.