On the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam, a soldier stands guard at a steel-and-concrete bunker 24 hours a day. A squad of riflemen is positioned in the canyon, and military police escort vehicles in convoys across the great expanse. A surprise attack against the United States has pierced the national calm and put the country on the defensive as it becomes involved in a war overseas. The year is 1942.
Today, history is repeating itself.
On Sept. 11, the Hoover Dam and the roadway over it were closed to traffic and visitors. Security checkpoints were established on each side of the dam and tours have been permanently altered.
The security measures at the dam are emblematic of the changes at national landmarks and other potential terrorist targets across the country after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, the 726-foot Hoover Dam stores water that is used on more than 1 million acres of agricultural land and is delivered to more than 20 million people in southern Nevada, southern California, Arizona and Mexico. It also generates more than 4 billion kilowatt-hours of power each year.
“So the loss of the dam or its operational systems could negatively impact the entire American Southwest,” says Colleen Dwyer of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the dam.
On alert across the nation
In the wake of Sept. 11, National Guard troops were posted at New York’s Lincoln and Holland tunnels, as well as at major bridges and airports.
In California, more than 1,000 National Guardsmen were stationed at the state’s 23 airports. While the National Guard pulled out of most major California airports in May, they remain at posts at the Golden Gate Bridge, due to its status as a national treasure.
To help coordinate heightened security in California, the State Operations Center, typically active only during an emergency, has been on constant alert since Sept. 11.
With attractions like Disneyland, the operations center is concerned with more than typical potential targets like power plants and chemical facilities.
“We look at places where a lot of people are concentrated,” says Sheryl Tankersley of the center. “There is a heightened awareness of unusual activity. ... I think people are still concerned, and we are still encouraging people to be aware of their surroundings and to report anything unusual.”
Guarding American history
Security remains high at historic sites as well.
In Philadelphia, tourists visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are no longer allowed to wander the grounds on their own, tours are supervised and security guards are out in force.
“You can’t miss them, they’re very visible,” says Wayne Warren, manager of Grande Olde Cheesesteak, just a block from the Liberty Bell.
While the increased security force does make him feel safer, Warren says, it has also hurt business. When people could roam the grounds freely, there were a much larger number of tourists at any given time.
Now, with the guided tours, “it’s much worse for the crowds of people,” says Warren. “You used to move the crowd right through and now it’s much harder. Now there are tickets and things move slowly.”
Nearly a year after the terrorist attacks, everything Americans do is a reminder that our world has changed.
“Whether they go to a train, an airport, Capitol Hill or just in a crowd — no matter where we go,” says Jerilyn Ross, head of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “Walking into a building and having our bags checked, needing to leave for the airport hours earlier, always being checked. There are these reminders for us all the time.”
No safe place
In the end, Ross says, the constant reminders have desensitized people to fear and have led to a feeling of helplessness.
“I think most people feel that because of the way that the terrorists attacked, the random nature, that there really isn’t a safe place,” she says.
Still at the Hoover Dam and elsewhere, there is evidence of business normalizing somewhat — this summer, tourism is at 70 percent of previous years.
The keepers of the nation’s landmarks say they are trying hard to balance the need for greater security with their mission of serving the public.
“People still come out here out of respect because they understand the significance of its history,” says Arnie Sealove at the Hoover Dam Visitor Center.
And they can still see the bunker, where soldiers from another generation began the dam’s first wartime vigil.