From 9/11 to COVID-19: What Have We Learned About U.S. Preparedness?


Brian Jackson, Senior Physical Scientist

The scale of the 9/11 attacks was unprecedented and the intensity of the hazards for the responders, particularly at the World Trade Center site in New York, was intense. One of the things that's been most striking about the pandemic is that we're learning some of the same lessons that we thought we'd learned from 9/11.

Just as the ability to quickly understand risk and explain technical information to inform good decisionmaking was a problem in the 9/11 responses, that same issue has hobbled the response to the pandemic. We've had some of the same challenges in providing protective equipment to responders, and there are similar issues with ensuring that responders use the protection that is available to them. Even though we've had hundreds of police officers, fire service members and thousands of medical professionals die from COVID-19, there are issues with vaccine hesitancy among many groups of responders and issues with using protective strategies like masks. Finally, we're seeing major stress and mental health challenges for responders, and so we're having the same concerns that our inability to protect them is going to have lasting effects for the preparedness of the country to deal with future challenges.