How the 9/11 attacks continue to shape security at Piedmont Triad International Airport

Remembering 9/11

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The 9/11 attack not only re-shaped the country, but it transformed the air travel industry forever, which includes the Piedmont Triad International Airport.  

Sept. 11, 2001, started a normal day for Terry McElfresh.  

The former PTI customer service supervisor spent 40 years of his life in the airport industry, the last 20 of which were served at the Greensboro airport.  

During his shift on that Tuesday, he watched the horrors in New York and Washington D.C. unfold in real-time.

“How did an airplane fly into a building?” McElfresh recalled of that moment. “We were all sitting there just stunned.” 

It wasn’t the image of the planes flying into the World Trade Center or the revelation that America was under attack, but the eerie calm inside his airport that followed that sticks most with him.  

“I was working at 4 o’clock in the morning until 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said.

Since that morning, airline travel has changed dramatically. While he worked in customer service, McElfresh remembered the series of changes in security that happened in the weeks and months that followed the attack. 

“It was a huge learning curve for everyone,” he said. “It was for the better. I watched the security evolve. At the time we had a designated person oversee the checkpoints, and they were contracted out by the airlines. In our days we had security in the concourse. The airport has added on two checkpoints, one on either side.”

The Transportation Security Administration was birthed out of the security failure of 9/11.  

Mark Howell, with TSA, explained, “The threat is not just for the U.S., but it’s global.”  

The agency is operated by Homeland Security and is required to be in airports with flights consisting of more than 60 seats.  

The goal for TSA is to stop attacks before they happen. Prevention evolves based on intelligence on terrorism tactics.  

 For example, passengers now have to take off their shoes and go through a 3-D body scanning machine.  

“In 2001 there was the shoe bomber attempt where he tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe. We put that rule into place right after,” Howell said. “Then the underwear bomber led us to change it to where you now have that 3-D imaging machine.”  

That evolution is also centered around keeping up with technology.  

TSA teams are tested daily to make sure the procedures in place are working.  

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