KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Speakers at an international gathering of facility managers struggled Monday to put a name to the devastation of the biggest buildings of them all, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"What happened on Sept. 11," as many labeled the attacks that embodied a building manager's worst nightmare, made terrorism an urgent topic at the annual meeting of the International Facility Management Association.
Officers of the 18,000-member association added a special program on confronting the threat of terrorism the three-day convention's agenda. A series of speakers Monday offered advice on creating security plans and recovering from catastrophic damage.
But even the experts could only shake their heads at the method of the attacks -- directing hijacked jetliners directly into buildings -- and the scope of the destruction.
"I stood last Sunday night at the Pentagon and was dumbfounded that a 757 could make the approach that it did and hit the building where it did, and that there was no plane left," said Douglas Fitzgerald, a former State Department anti-terrorism expert who helped design security for 67 U.S. embassies around the world.
Fitzgerald is now director of security and technology for Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Inc., an international engineering and consulting firm that is among the contractors on the Pentagon's 10-year renovation project.
His audience Monday -- managers of everything from universities and hospitals to courthouses and capitols -- listened intently to his tips on protecting property from intruders bent on destruction. Still, he said, not every threat can be envisioned.
After the February 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, Fitzgerald said, security officials "had made every provision following the bombing that anyone could think of."
"But I tell you, they did not think of a 757 coming into the mid-part of that building," he said.
Despite the nation's sudden focus on airline safety, another speaker described encountering casual security at some U.S. airports after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mike Liddle, managing director of Business & Facility Solutions Ltd. in Berkshire, England, described the thorough screening of passengers and their belongings at London's Heathrow Airport. Body searches and color X-rays that can detect dangerous materials are routine there, he said.
"When I got to Newark (N.J.), everything changed," said Liddle, who is chairman of the United Kingdom chapter of the management association.
"I had an indifferent meeting with the security person. They never opened my bag, and it's big -- I carry the world in there," he said. "I said to the woman, 'Is that it?' She just looked at me."
Later, in San Francisco, he was subject to a body search, but his bag wasn't opened and there was nothing like the detailed inspection carried out at Heathrow.
"I think you guys are going to have change," Liddle told his mostly American audience Monday. "We in Europe are sort of used to these things."
One day after the attacks, the facility management association added a section to its Internet site to direct help to affected members in New York and elsewhere. The association also surveyed its members and found that while 80 percent had disaster plans, only 26 percent had anti-terrorism plans, president Dennis Longworth said.
"The day after the attacks, our members were probably the ones that the CEOs called into their office and asked, 'How's our plans? Are we ready? If this happens to us, what can we do?"' Longworth said. "I think that's going to be the biggest change we see, and that's what we're going to help our members with."