Life takes on subtle, simple changes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

There is before and after. And both were normal, but in the days and months and now two years since Sept. 11, normal has taken on a new meaning, even for those of us touched indirectly by the terrorists attacks that morning.

For the Rev. Karl Wilson of Lake St. John Community Baptist Church, Sept. 11 will always be a day for his congregation to gather in prayer. Today will be no different.

For Lt. Col. Jeff McClure, just days removed from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Sept. 11 is a &uot;defining moment in American history&uot; &045; one he will speak about to his history classes.

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For frequent travelers like Fred Callon, the higher level of security means he takes a little more time when he heads to the airport. &uot;It’s part of day-to-day life,&uot; he said.

While America remains at war &045; and many Miss-Lou sons and daughters are still overseas &045; the overt images of Sept. 11 have all but faded.

Instead, the effects are subtle and simple, from the prevalence of American flags fluttering from balconies and fences to the precautions taken for homeland security.

Taken together, though, the changes have woven a pattern of new normalcy from New York to Natchez.

Psychological effects

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, didn’t happen in our backyard, but they affected &045; and, in some cases, continue to affect &045; our mindsets, said local psychologists.

But developing a balanced life and a resilient mindset, as well as seeking professional help when needed, can be the key to overcoming lingering symptoms, they said.

Television coverage of the events and their aftermath was so prevalent that it could produce post-traumatic stress disorder, even for people without connections to New York, said Dr. Linda Wilbourn.

&uot;It was cover so excessively on television, and most of us have some connections with New York. It makes us think it can happen anywhere,&uot; Wilbourn said.

Symptoms of PTSD could include guilt, shame, helplessness, anxiety, hostility and isolation, she added.

Another effect has been the avoidance of such things as high-rise buildings, flying on an airplane or visiting a large city, &uot;and that can interfere with a person’s career,&uot; Wilbourn said.

Children might exhibit such symptoms as nightmares, self-destructive behavior, sleep problems, headaches and stomachaches if they are suffering PTSD.

And PTSD symptoms can appear months after the event that spurs them, Wilbourn said.

Dr. Patricia Pintard said that most of her Sept. 11-related conversations with patients took place in the month after the events.

And she wasn’t surprised they mentioned it frequently, given the stresses they were already carrying around.

&uot;People are already so stressed that when something happens that’s so far beyond their control, it’s even more hard to deal with,&uot; Pintard said.

She compared it to crossing a bridge with a load limit and noticing that several 18-wheelers are already packed onto that bridge.

&uot;We know the load limit is strained,&uot; she said. &uot;So when we add personal problems to global situations, they take on new dimensions. We don’t have much of an error margin left.&uot;

That’s the reason the entire psychological field is now focusing on the topic of resiliency, &uot;because that’s the only way to learn to cope with it,&uot; Pintard said.

But there are things individuals can do now to increase that resiliency, she said.

&uot;To develop resiliency, we have to maximize our physical, psychological and spiritual health, so whatever we’re doing that diminishes that, we should correct immediately,&uot; Pintard said. Having a support network is also key.

&uot;This is an opportunity for all of us to develop a deeper sense of who we are as an individual and a member of the community, whether local or global,&uot; she said.

Still, Wilbourn said that anyone experiencing PTSD symptoms for more than one month should seek psychotherapy and could possibly benefit from medication.

School efforts

Sept. 11, a day that changed the lives of many and the way people function and go about their day even though they may not realize it.

For schools, safety or heightened security was not really a reaction to Sept. 11, at least not in Natchez-Adams Schools.

&uot;Sept. 11 did not really affect the schools,&uot; Natchez-Adams School District Director of Operations H.W. Barnett said. &uot;We got our wake-up call in the late 1990s.&uot;

Pearl (Miss.), Paducah (Ky.), Jonesboro, Ark. and Columbine (Colo.) were the scenes of terror that struck throughout the school communities of America in the 90s, and today Vicksburg could be added to that list of school shooting.

Although the Associated Press reported District Attorney Gil Martin say this shooting was not like a Columbine or Pearl, it was a shooting at a school nonetheless, one of many scenarios schools around the nation have tried to prepare for.

Barnett said after that rash of school shootings, that is when the schools knew they needed to do something about school safety.

In 1999, the state mandated every school to have a safety plan in place, Barnett said. The district sat down teachers, students, local law enforcement agencies and community members to write the district’s emergency preparedness manual. Then it was sent to the state department and used as a basis for the state’s manual.

The state department issues alert levels to the schools just like the national government does for the nation. Barnett said the Natchez-Adams schools operate at a level two on a daily basis.

The plan is set for the district and then for each individual school and is revised every year.

The manual addresses most anything that can happen on a school’s campus &045; a person with a weapon, a bomb threat, an altercation, a building collapse, etc. &045; and tells personnel what to do in the emergency, including manning phones and a crisis command center.

&uot;What do you do for terrorism? You do the same things we have in our emergency plan,&uot; Barnett said. &uot;Our safety plan takes into consideration what you would do in a terrorist attack. While we don’t address terrorism, we address the acts of terrorism.&uot;

And many security measures have been in place for a while. The security guards at the entrance to the middle and high schools have been on guard since 1989. The police resource officers on campus were implemented in 2001. Fingerprinting new employees has been in place for three years.

&uot;While we had it before, 9-11 makes it more important to do it,&uot; Barnett said.

And the schools have performed emergency drills on campus to help them and local emergency responders to learn what to do in an emergency situation.

When 9-11 happened, the schools, focused &uot;more on the psychological effects&uot; on students, Barnett said, already having their emergency situation manual in place.

But when the war started, that changed a few things. Travel was cut back initially, on the first days of the war but then reinstated once the district evaluated that no one else was taking such precaution.

To say the schools were not affected at all would be a wrong statement. Barnett said the whole nation got a wake up call and realize terrorism can happen and strike anywhere. However, the school district is as prepared as they can be and have been before the tragedies of Sept. 11 although not before those of the school shootings, which also took many innocent lives.