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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


City government, police force recall shock of terrorist attacks, reflect on moving on

Sept. 11 will always evoke intense memories and powerful emotions. While all Americans will recall Sept. 11 in their own way, few experienced the pressures government and law-enforcement officials across the nation, including in Madison, faced with coordinating efforts amidst the chaos to correspond with the heightened sense of security and to ensure citizens’ safety.

Two officials, Captain Dale Burke of the University of Wisconsin Police Department, and Ryan Mulcahy, assistant to the mayor of Madison, are taking time to recount their alarm, the immediate steps their offices took and the permanent changes that have been made in the way the city is run.

“Our initial reaction was shock, but upon realizing that everybody else was in shock, we came to the realization that it was up to us to step in and take over and do what needed to be done in order to help bring everybody down to earth,” Burke said. “We got together and huddled up and said, ‘OK, what can we do immediately to help things get better?'”

The terrorist attacks targeted buildings: important symbols of government. This brought immediate concerns to secure the Capitol building, Monona Terrace, the Kohl Center, the federal courthouse and Camp Randall, Burke said. These are all structures that, based on prior acts of terrorism, had been identified as potential targets.

UW police also considered the safety of the campus community, computer data and the biological, chemical, and nuclear materials present on campus.

“Things were done that the public is not aware of, and that will remain confidential,” Burke said. “The university did take special measures to secure things of importance, as opposed to steps like those taken in Washington to secure high-level government officials.”

Burke said the safety of the administrators was a priority, but the primary concern was to secure the highly sensitive materials present at UW. Chancellor John Wiley was not on campus at the time of the attacks.

Burke said one of the hardest things for the department to deal with was trying to balance the increased workload with the grieving process.

“The UW Police Department is a busy organization even when events like those on Sept. 11 don’t happen. Having that occur essentially doubled our workload for the next month and a half,” Burke said. “In addition, people think of us as being different, but in the big scheme of things we’re not. We are brothers and sisters, moms and dads, and sons and daughters. We needed time to grieve just like the rest of the country, so it was a challenge for us to keep doing the work that had to be done, as well as present a very strong and resolved public face.”

Burke said the UW Police Department felt it would be helpful to have a more visible presence of officers. The department put as many people in uniform as possible and encouraged officers to get involved with people on a more personal level.

“We also started looking at what we needed to do across the board here at the university to make sure we were as reasonably safe as we could be,” Burke said.

In the spring of 2000, UW police addressed the need for a university-wide crisis-response plan. Burke said no specific events prompted the creation of the plan, but he is glad it had been implemented before Sept. 11.

“This was a plan that hadn’t been practiced yet to the level that we would have preferred, but it had been practiced, and when Sept. 11 came, we rolled it out and activated it and found that it was a tremendous value,” Burke said. “The university community should feel better knowing that we have a plan for crisis situations, and that it does work.”

In the days following the attacks, Burke said he noticed an unusual outpouring of support for the police department.

“The number of people that came up and thanked us and showed their support was phenomenal, and it was very much appreciated,” Burke said.

Mulcahy, who worked closely with the mayor for the days following the attacks, said his office had many similar reactions and concerns.

“We were horrified, but we were also riveted and overwhelmed by the heroism of the firefighters who lost their lives in an effort to save others,” Mulcahy said. “It had a profound effect on the mayor and her staff.”

Immediately after the attacks, city officials increased security at the municipal courthouse, the county jail, the Madison Municipal Building and the City Council Building, where the mayor’s office is located.

Security remained tight at the City Council Building for about one week, according to Mulcahy. Under normal circumstances, everyone except employees with security cards has to go through a security checkpoint. For that week, every employee had to go through the security screening. Subsequently, things returned to their normal level of security.

One month after the attacks, during the anthrax scare, at least three incidents of suspected anthrax contamination hit local government offices.

“Fortunately, all of those suspected materials proved to be harmless, but it did give the city, county and state officials an opportunity to learn more about how to appropriately respond to those situations,” Mulcahy said.

Today, security measures are not being tightened in the city, but all officials have been asked to maintain a higher level of alert.

“There are no increased security precautions today, but our level of vigilance is higher,” Mulcahy said. “The attorney general has elevated the threat condition to the second-highest level, and locally this tightens our sense of caution.”

City officials have asked weapons screeners to be especially vigilant over the next few days and to pay attention to suspicious vehicles around downtown.

In addition, UW police are once again making an effort to maintain an increased presence around campus.

“We’re putting officers back in uniform, not only to have an increased physical presence, but to serve a psychological purpose in terms of reassuring people that we are a resource,” Burke said.

Both the university and city have planned several events for today in remembrance of the attacks. Burke and Mulcahy said they feel the events will serve as a reminder and once again create a sense of unity in the Madison community.

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