Ten Years After
HHS faculty remember, reflect on 9/11 and discuss the teaching and research challenges the day helped usher in.
By Grant Flora
Tuesday morning. Sept. 11, 2001. At 8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north side of the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City. Minutes later, at 9:02 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south side of the World Trade Center South Tower.
Another day in infamy ensued. The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania killed more 3,000 people. That day changed the American psyche. It broke hearts. It brought people together if only briefly. It launched two wars. It hurt the economy. It altered ways of life. It inaugurated the so-called "New Normal."
Fast forward… May 1, 2011. Shortly after 11 p.m. EST, President Barack Obama declares, "Justice has been done." Osama bin Laden is dead.
Now, 10 years after the worst attack on American soil, it’s time to remember and reflect on that decade-defining event’s lingering impact. As memory recedes into history, faculty within Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences prepare students for leadership on the world stage — a very different world from Sept. 11, 2001.
Anyone under the illusion that Osama bin Laden’s disposal to a watery grave would diminish the threat of terrorism soon found out otherwise. Especially for those in the hospitality industry.
The hospitality business — restaurants, hotels, resorts, travel and tourism — is the largest industry in the world, operating nearly everywhere and thus vulnerable to any number of business disruptions. The worldwide industry is larger than the U.S. agricultural industry, the U.S. airline industry and the U.S. motion picture industry combined, according to QSR Magazine. The restaurant industry alone accounts for millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in the U.S. and international economies.
Just days after the terrorist’s demise, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) issued a call for continued vigilance and urged its members to remain alert to terrorist attacks targeting hotels. AH&LA recommended that owners and managers meet with their emergency response teams to review preparedness procedures and be sure to have relationships in place with their local emergency response agencies.
"Hotel attacks are not new," says Howard Adler, the C.B. Smith Professor of Hotel Management and director of the Center for the Study of Lodging Operations in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM), the top-ranked program in the country.
What is new, Adler notes, is the hotel industry’s sudden open acknowledgement of emergency response preparedness procedures and relationships. For the major hotel chains before 9/11, whatever plans existed were closely guarded secrets — and with good reason.
Since Sept. 2001, more than 60 attacks have occurred in hotels in more than 20 countries, according to AH&LA. Hotels rank among the top soft targets of terrorist groups around the world.
"We assume all the major hotel operations ensure that adequate preparations are in place," Adler says. "What kind of things? It’s nothing they’ve been willing to talk about."
As a whole, the hotel industry has not allowed research specific to terrorism, says Adler, who has held several hotel management positions in his career.
"I have never seen security and terrorism issues discussed at any major hospitality conference," he says. "Academics have not done research articles on this topic because of how difficult it is to gather information. The major hotel corporations are not going to discuss preparations with academics, and I understand and respect that. It would be interesting and useful to find out how such incidents affect people’s overall perceptions of traveling."
HTM Professor Howard Adler (right) and students take in Dublin's River Liffey
during a study abroad program.
And the topic is discussed only in passing in the HTM program, too, Adler says. "In the classroom, we teach our students to create business plans, and disaster preparation falls under 'contingency planning.'"
He recalls the contingencies invoked in the immediate effects of Sept. 11, 2001. "Our industry is cyclical and we were headed into a recession at the time," Adler says. "But 9/11 topped us out. A large number of companies canceled attending the annual HTM career fair we had planned later in September. Recruiting slowed down and some job offers were rescinded."
As a result, a large number of students then applied to graduate school. Adler says many students were forced to take hourly positions in the industry due to cutbacks on management ranks and trainee positions.
Of course, travel slowed too. The hijacking of planes to attack the World Trade Center shut down North American airspace for several days. When it was deemed safe to fly, air traffic decreased as much as 20 percent, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures.
Immediate impact and the industry’s cyclical nature underscore a lesson Adler and his colleagues try to convey to students. "We are teaching students to think in a long-term perspective," Adler says. "We are teaching them skills that will work effectively in good times and bad."
He cites other business-disruption incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese tsunami. "Overall the tourism and hospitality industry is very susceptible to outside issues that it can’t control, which slows down tourism." Volcano eruptions in Iceland hurt European air travel. Similar events in Chile hurt flights to Australia and New Zealand. "There’s always something going on and our students will constantly face challenges like these in their careers. In the classroom, we prepare them to think ahead."
And thinking ahead means thinking globally. Students who were 8 years old in 2001 are now in college. "Their outlook is more global," Adler says. "And so are their opportunities."
In the past 10 years, the economy became more global, as has the school’s instruction. "We are preparing our undergraduates with knowledge about other cultures and expanding their horizons due to globalization," Adler says. "Most of the major companies’ growth will take place outside the United States. Our students need to know this."
Hotel companies such as Intercontinental Hotel Group, Starwood Hotels and Marriott are all counting on global markets for a significant share of their future growth. Marriott, for example, is taking its entire product line — 15 different brands — international, Adler says.
Accordingly, the HTM curriculum includes more discussions of cultures and customs, even politics, Adler says. Furthermore, the majority of the school’s master’s and Ph.D. candidates are international students. A third of the faculty members hail from other countries.
"China is the number one tourism destination in the world," Adler says, citing the school’s internship programs with two hotel chains in China. China also is the top growth market for McDonald’s restaurants. With more than 1,000 restaurants and tens of thousands of employees there already, McDonald’s Corp. announced plans to increase its investment in China by 40 percent in 2011, opening 175-200 new restaurants in the country.
Such global realities mean study abroad opportunities have grown and will continue to increase, Adler says. Over the last few years, Alder has been to 108 countries himself, and HTM programs were conducted in Argentina, Chile, Dubai, Oman, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Denmark.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Sandra Sydnor is talking on the phone and watching the "Today Show" in the background.
HTM professor Sandra Sydnor
studies the effect of disasters
and crises on businesses.
(Purdue University photo/
"I thought I was watching a trailer for a disaster movie," she says. "That day was a game-changer for me, as well as the country. I felt vulnerable. I had no sense of how to protect my children and myself. Little by little, as information came out, I began thinking about disasters and how people deal with devastating events. It was an intersection of the personal and the professional in my life."
Sydnor, now an assistant professor in HTM, says the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and other disasters — both natural and man-made — have informed her academic work and research these past 10 years.
Sydnor's primary research interests focus on the hospitality industry and how businesses survive, grow and decline — particularly after disasters and crises. Her work, "Weathering the Storm: Firm Resilience Under Sudden Change" was nominated for the Best Paper Award at the I-CHRIE (International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education) Annual Conference.
Sydnor’s "ripped from the headlines" research explores the impact of disasters on hospitality industry businesses, including the jobs they create, and focuses on how those businesses survive and bounce back after a disaster. Surviving and, at minimum, maintaining businesses and jobs after a calamity is the spectrum of plans and practices she refers to as resilience.
Hospitality industry disaster research increased dramatically, primarily in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Sydnor says. "From a government perspective, such as National Science Foundation grants that afford funded research on disaster resilience, research has increased. The government has invested a lot of resources and talent in disaster preparation, mitigation, response and recovery. There still hasn’t been as much investment as you’d suspect from a non-government perspective."
In fact, she says, despite the frequency and ferocity of recent natural and man-made disasters, there is little industry or academic research regarding plans that deal with disasters. Her research seeks to impress industry leaders to fully appreciate the impact, reach and consequences disasters have on the industry, as well as the businesses and communities in which they operate.
"Because the industry is a critical source of domestic economic activity, it is important to understand what happens to it and its jobs after a disaster, and to understand the mechanisms by which industry resilience is achieved," she says.
Hospitality disaster research efforts remain centered on evacuation and the preservation of life, buildings and equipment. "The primary focus is, understandably, on the preservation of life and not so much on post-disaster business and job continuity," Sydnor says.
Sydnor hopes her continued research will establish a new model of resilience, in part built on her findings that creating and maintaining social networks of shared norms and values specific to various communities will foster industry business and job sustainability in the face of disasters.
Initial research findings suggest that businesses experience enhanced resilience through community resilience, Sydnor says. Industries and businesses invested in their communities and workforce are better able to adapt and survive after a disaster. New Orleans post-Katrina comes to mind, she says. People coming together in the immediate wake of disasters like Sept. 11 offer another example of a community’s interdependence and support as a survival mechanism.
Purdue students gather for a candlelight memorial program, Sept. 12, 2001. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)
If there is any enduring coda to take away a decade after 9/11, it may be the collective resilience of people to endure, to survive and rise from the inevitable challenges and disasters of our time.
To read more about the global impact of 9/11 and the subsequent response of research, education and outreach efforts from Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences look for our inaugural college magazine early next year.