Reflecting on 9/11: How that day changed mass-casualty response for CO law enforcement

Local News

BRIGHTON, Colo (KDVR) — Saturday marks 20 years since the Sept. 11 attacks changed the course of American history. 

From a law enforcement perspective, the fateful day remains one of the deadliest in our nation’s history, with more than 400 police officers and firefighters killed in the attacks and the aftermath. 

“I was sitting at home watching TV, as everybody else was,” says Adams County Sheriff Rick Reigenborn. “And we were wondering, how’s it going to affect us here? Is this going to come to Colorado? And if it comes to Colorado, what are we going to do?”

Reigenborn was a patrol deputy at the time, and says focus quickly shifted to identifying potential attack targets locally.

“If they did hit one of our chemical plants, what would we be able to do?” he says. “It was a terrorism that we didn’t know, and we didn’t know what that threat could be.”

Reigenborn says the days and weeks that followed the attacks were filled with plenty of change, including new training on how to deal with mass casualty events, and new supplies in patrol cars.

“Every patrol deputy was issued a green bag, and on the side it said ‘WMD,’ weapons of mass destruction,” he says. 

Those bags contained hazmat suits, duct tape, rubber gloves, and gas masks, some of which are still carried by deputies today.

“We never used to carry tourniquets, we do now,” says Reigenborn. “We never used to carry gas masks, we do now.”

Reigenborn says they also pay more attention to the layouts of buildings throughout the county, particularly large ones with people inside.

“We didn’t do that before,” he says. “We had some six, seven story buildings where we didn’t know the layouts. It became important in case we have to go in there.”

The attacks came just two years after the Columbine High School shooting, so Reigenborn says local law enforcement agencies were a step ahead of some other states when it came to mass casualty response.

“I think Colorado was a little better prepared because of, unfortunately, Columbine,” he says. “At Columbine, we struggled to communicate with each other, because some people were using a different system, they were using different radios, so that made it very difficult for us to communicate.”

Colorado law enforcement agencies now share radio channels, allowing for a better response to large events. 

They also regularly train together, to allow a more seamless response at mass casualty scenes. Reigenborn says both events are difficult to talk about, but he says the lessons learned remain in use today. 

“There’s still a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of raw emotions that sit there with Columbine, and probably the folks in New York that were close to the towers feel those exact same feelings that I have when I talk about Columbine,” he says. 

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