Michael Kerbelis remembers air travel coming to a screeching halt on Sept. 11, 2001. Before plane traffic resumed, Kerbelis and other travel agents at Southern Travel Agency in Augusta scurried around, helping clients stranded in places other than home.
“It’s like turning a spigot on and off. One day it’s running, one day it’s not,” Kerbelis said. “Our business froze.”
The air-travel industry, Kerbelis said, felt a direct hit for the rest of the year as corporations limited business travel and people had second thoughts about getting onto planes for personal trips.
“As time went on, everyone’s comfort level increased and security measures increased,” he said. “Travel slowly but surely inched its way back to normal levels.”
Similarly, banking and security industries recall an abrupt stop to regular business that has since bounced back with a 10-year recovery from terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Ordinary business transactions and consumer spending were dramatically affected by uncertain financial markets and national security, said Dan Blanton, the president and chief executive officer of Georgia Bank & Trust.
“When Sept. 11 hit, we saw a dramatic drop in the Dow, in the stocks,” Blanton said. “The whole world was in turmoil for a while there.”
As banks across the country struggled to restore investor confidence, they also changed business practices to comply with new federal security regulations, he said.
To comply with the Patriot Act, a law signed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, banking institutions were required to collect more identification from business customers, Blanton said. The time-consuming process of verifying each persons signing for a business account amounted to some aggravation for customers, he said.
Elsewhere, private security companies adjusted contracts for heightened terrorist threat levels for several months after Sept. 11.
“Initially, right after 9/11, we ramped up security,” said Bob Cadarr, the senior vice president and director of corporate security for Sizemore Inc. in Augusta. “Slowly, as we progressed beyond the event, it backed off to a normal level.”
Sizemore officers patrolled facilities routinely before Sept. 11, but they improved security by stationing an officer at every entryway, Cadarr said.
In some instances, manpower increased from four or five officers to 10 or 12, he said.
Sizemore made large investments in equipment for officers on their government contracts, Cadarr said. Though ordinary businesses started pulling back on heightened security in 2002, government contracts did not go back to pre-Sept. 11 levels, he said.
Augusta Regional Airport needed several years to recover. Continental Airlines rescinded plans to begin service in Augusta in the later months of 2001 because of the terrorist attacks, said Dianne Johnston, the director of marketing for the airport.
“For the next several months, traffic was way down,” Johnston said. “Things were really down for all airports and all airlines.”
Passenger traffic slightly increased when Continental entered the Augusta market in 2003, but commercial airline traffic did not show its strongest recovery until 2006, Johnston said.
“All traffic started to pick up across the country,” she said. “(Passengers) saw there were no more attacks using the airlines. That gave people a certain amount of confidence in the system.”