Two-Year Review

A look at how life has changed in our community since Sept. 11, 2001.

It's been 730 days since that crystal-clear morning when America was attacked. In Tucson, the reaction was immediate, with thousands volunteering to donate blood, form a human flag or help in other ways.

Two years later, does Sept. 11 still have an impact on the community? In many respects, the answer is yes.

The most obvious effect is in airline travel and employment. The wait for security checks currently averages about five minutes at Tucson International Airport, which is still only one-half the national standard. The 191 screening personnel at TIA are now federal employees.

But while that figure has gone up, the number of people using the airport has decreased. Comparing July 2001 activity at TIA with this year, business was off 11 percent, to 286,000 passengers.

A similar decline is reflected in the number of people visiting town, with the city of Tucson collecting 6 percent less in bed tax receipts this July than two years ago. The number of folks seeking information in person at the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau is also down. That figure was just less than 3,000 this July, off almost 30 percent from two years ago.

That reality has resulted in fewer airline employees--and several companies are on shaky financial ground. Locally, the American Airlines call center has gone from having 1,350 full-time positions in 2001 to 1,100, an 18 percent decrease.

The University of Arizona has also seen a drop of sorts. Within a year of Sept. 11, enrollment from four Middle Eastern countries had decreased by almost 30 percent to a total of 91, with the biggest drop coming in Saudi Arabian students.

While residents of the region may be fewer at the UA, interest in the area's history, people and culture has increased. The University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies is sponsoring a series of lectures this semester and has a speaker's bureau that sends people out to talk on the subject.

Increased funding also came to local communities after the attacks. Two years ago, Pima County's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security received only $470,000. In 2002, it obtained $1.5 million, and this year, it's been authorized $4.4 million. Some of those latest funds, however, were awarded based on a clerical error.

Office spokesman Keith St. John indicates the money is distributed to 29 local public safety agencies and is used primarily to purchase equipment to respond to chemical or biological incidents and for training.

Another change in the past two years has occurred in the number of people getting involved with our community. Ellen Hargis, president of the Volunteer Center of Tucson, says phones rang off the hook after emergencies like the Aspen fire, and that applications for the service organization AmeriCorps are up. She attributes this trend to Sept. 11, the slow economy and President's Bush's promotion of service to the country.

That same type of permanent change, however, has not occurred in a few areas. Right after Sept. 11, the sale of books about the Middle East at Reader's Oasis on Speedway Boulevard increased sharply. Now, even though a lot of volumes continue to be published on the subject, interest has shifted to national topics.

At the same time, the flurry of flag sales after Sept. 11 has slowed dramatically. Charles Smith, at Tucson Map and Flag Center, says that in two days, he sold out of the 180 standard-sized flags he had on hand, a supply that normally lasted three months. But now, things are almost back to normal, with only a small increase since two years ago.

Another thing that hasn't changed much is blood donations. Many first-time givers appeared immediately after the attacks, but a lot of them never came back. Overall donations to the American Red Cross are off over 11 percent in the last two years; that includes almost 1,200 who gave blood after Sept. 11, but haven't done so since.

In retrospect, maybe it took a catastrophic event to get them to roll up their sleeves.

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