On a 1999 tour of New York City, Wise County Sheriff David Walker had the best view of Manhattan.
“I was there for the FBI national academy, and I was on top of one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center taking pictures,” he recalled.
Two years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, Walker and his cohorts at the Sheriff’s Office in Decatur had a totally different view of NYC and the towers.
“I was walking down the hall and the TV in the training room was on, and I glanced at it and saw the World Trade Center building was on fire,” he recently recalled.
Within minutes, the room was filled as then-Sheriff Phil Ryan, deputies and other office employees crowded around the TV set.
Much has changed since 9/11.
“It changed the way we as citizens travel, how we as citizens live, everything. And from a law enforcement standpoint,” Walker said, “how we do our business every day has changed a lot.”
The sheriff said one of the biggest changes is the networking of law enforcement computers and communication.
“A lot of agencies across the nation did not share information, no matter what it was,” Walker said. “Now they do.
“Wise County was ahead of the game,” he said. “Even though we’re a semi-rural county, we’ve always worked as one big group from an emergency standpoint sharing information.”
The Department of Homeland Security was created after 9/11 to tie together a number of federal agencies. Federal grants flowed to police, fire and other safety agencies.
The Sheriff’s Office has a new patrol boat to use at Lake Bridgeport and a new video system.
“We received a Homeland Security grant of just under $200,000 for surveillance equipment,” Walker said. “We use it with critical infrastructure, like the gas plant. We use it any time we heighten security, like this weekend.”