PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — We continue to remember the September 11 terrorist attacks and the nearly 3,000 lives lost.
Ron Carlee can be found teaching in the classroom at Old Dominion University these days as an assistant professor.
20 years ago, he found himself leading a county through the unthinkable when American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
“I was starting my new role as county manager, and I was doing a keynote address at 8 a.m.,” Carlee said.
By 8:30 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Ron Carlee’s pager was buzzing incessantly. He was five months into his role as Arlington county manager.
Unaware of the devastation transpiring in New York City, he ignored his pager at first. The buzzing didn’t stop.
“I looked at the pager and it said call ECC ASAP. ECC is the emergency communications center.”
“Some of the people in that workshop were on duty police and fire officers,” he said. “They had gotten word of a plane going into the Pentagon.”
With first responders by his side, Carlee headed to the Pentagon.
“We could see this was a catastrophic event,” he said.
An event Carlee says Arlington had unknowingly prepared for about a year and a half before.
“Because of Y2k, if you can remember the turn of the century, people were really afraid computers were going to fail and being in the D.C area, we were concerned about terrorist attacks.”
Carlee and his team prepared for that potential glitch in 2000.
“19 months later, we implemented that plan on 9/11,” he said.
Now 20 years later, he reflects on his time as county manager on that fateful day and the days and years that followed.
“We decided to open government on September 12,” he said. The people that showed up for work on the 12, we don’t think of them too much as responders but perhaps they sent one of the most important messages: that you can’t stop us. We are resilient.”
Carlee left his role as Arlington County Manager in 2009. He went on to become city manager of Charlotte, North Carolina.
He said living and working in a military town like Norfolk just feels right after gaining so much respect for our service members during and after 9/11.
This fall, Carlee and his colleagues are teaching a virtual disaster recovery course in conjunction with FEMA and ICMA (International City/County Management Association).