Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Fear, numbness part of aftermath

Experts: Attacks affect psyche

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One week after jets slammed into America's symbols of financial and military might, Greater Cincinnati residents are struggling to return to normal life.

        Psychologists and other experts warn that even as daily activities resume, many people won't be able to cast aside the trauma of last week's events.

        “Numbness sets in — a realization that life is not going to be the same,” said Tony Grasha, a University of Cincinnati associate professor of psychology. “It's like being in a war zone. What to others seems abnormal, becomes a part of everyday life.”

        Residents such as Benny Kimchoy feel a little more vulnerable, even though last week's attacks were hundreds of miles away at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

        Mrs. Kimchoy's job at Great American Financial Resources requires frequent trips between the firm's downtown offices.

        It was a leisurely stroll before last Tuesday.

        Now she scans the streets and skies for possible trouble.

        “I'm always alert now, always looking,” said Mrs. Kimchoy, 46, of Erlanger. “I find myself watching other people a little more closely.”

        In the aftermath of last week's attacks, experts warn about possible long-term changes are ahead for Cincinnati and the United States — in security, in travel, even in the way buildings are designed — that could profoundly affect society.

        Pam Bishop, manager of the Middletown branch of AAA Ohio Auto Club, said she's never seen such a chaotic week during her nine years in the travel business.

        “There have been a lot of cancellations,” Mrs. Bishop said. “People are scared.”

        Mrs. Kimchoy said she'll never fly again, despite a renewed focus on airport security. Airlines now want passengers to arrive two to three hours before a flight departs.

        The extra time at airports may not sit well with Americans, said Brian Flynn, a New York-based anti-terrorism advocate who has lobbied for tougher airport security measures.

        “Americans haven't been big into sacrifice,” said Mr. Flynn, whose brother was killed during the 1988 terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. “The relative affluence has made us complacent. Maybe people will become a little more committed.”

        Some firms also may rethink plans to lease space in high-rise office buildings or keeping all operations under a single roof — creating a single target for attack or natural disaster.

        That could mean development of fewer high-rise office buildings.

        “Just because you can build something, it doesn't always mean it's a good idea,” said Richard Miller, a University of Cincinnati associate professor and civil and environmental engineering. “The problem with something like the World Trade Center is getting people out of the building.”

        Perhaps the biggest legacy of the attacks, said Mr. Grasha, is fear and anxiety.

        The hijackings pierced a sense of security that most Americans felt.

        “These are all natural, normal responses,” Mr. Grasha said. “Our mental processes are protecting us, helping us to cope.”


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