Kitsap reacts to the tragedy
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:28 AM
"In the days after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history struck the East Coast, a disquieting hush fell over Kitsap County, save for the tangle of cars backed up near area Naval installations and the measured patrols of Puget Sound.Confused Kitsap residents dealt with a cold, unyielding anger, softened only by an equally unwavering sadness, by soliciting nearby markets where American flags were sold by the hundreds. Representatives with Kitsap-area Wal-Marts and Fred Meyers this week reported consumers rushed to their stores and, shortly thereafter, stocks of American flags sold out.We had well over 150 of those packages of small, hand-held American flags, and those sold out, said a Fred Meyer employee this week. We're planning on ordering many more of those as well as regular-sized flags.Flags flew at half staff around Kitsap this week, and smaller Old Glory symbols lined manicured lawns or held a place of honor on motor vehicles.Normally hum-drum routines were suspended - many Kitsap residents opted to stay at home this week, not going to work for at least the first 24 hours following the four-pronged hijacking of American commercial airliners that officials fear caused the deaths of thousands of citizens. Area churches hosted impromptu prayer vigils throughout the county, and the more than 200,000 citizens of Kitsap, feeling relatively unconnected before Tuesday, banded together and united behind flags, lit candles and a tinge of fear for those who were lost and what was to come.They wanted normalcy during an abnormal time.We can't stop and be flattened by this, said Alison Sonntag, the acting county clerk for Kitsap. To do so would let them win.The courthouse in Port Orchard remained open for business Tuesday and the rest of the week. Government officials, including Sonntag, wanted to show unity and leadership, not fear. All the while, they mourned the lost.We're planning on dressing up in red, white and blue on Friday to show our solidarity as Americans, Sonntag said. They can hurt us, but they can't defeat us.While government in Kitsap continued to operate, other local agencies prepared themselves to help citizens distraught by the recent events.We've offered to help Kitsap School districts by making available our Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team, which is made up of our employees, said Janet Mayberry, director of development and community relations for Kitsap Mental Health.By late Wednesday, area schools hadn't made any such requests to the agency, but the volunteers who operate the phones at the Crisis Clinic of the Peninsula reported this week they received 11 phone calls related to the terrorist attacks.We're here if they need us, Mayberry said.While residents reacted differently this week to the horrific events unfolding in the nation - some prayed, others hoisted flags or both- the antenna of Kitsap law enforcement agencies indicated they were at full alert. Sheriff deputies kept their eyes peeled, but very few suspicious incidents came to light.Boyer said Jon Sandberg, a 20-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office and member of a multi-agency bomb squad, on Sept. 13 investigated a suspicious device inside a stolen car recovered in South Kitsap by local law enforcement.We haven't responded to any other similar incidents, Boyer said.He hopes it stays that way.Fully aware of a minority of U.S. citizens who have allegedly threatened and harassed other residents of Muslim or Arabic descent across the country in the last week, Boyer decided to prevent such from happening in Kitsap. Even as he works to prevent the possibility, Boyer believes Kitsap residents are too grounded to jump to conclusions and retaliate against certain ethnic groups for the attacks.There are no reports in Kitsap County of (Muslim or Arabic) residents who have been harassed, said Boyer. Even so, I believe it's important to keep the peace, and sometimes that means being proactive.The Human Rights Council of Kitsap County, likewise, hasn't received any reports of malicious mischief or the harassment of Arabic groups in the area.I want to assure people their rights will be protected, said Boyer. At the same time, I think Kitsap has learned lessons, especially with the Bainbridge Island internments (of WWII). I don't think people will overreact and I have confidence people won't do anything inappropriate.If they do, they will be held accountable, Boyer said. Even as residents mourned and agencies increased security this last week, getting from one place to another raised serious challenges.Because of the current level of security at the military bases, our buses are restricted from going to them, said John Clauson, service development director of Kitsap Transit. We wanted to make sure that all of this happens as easily as possible.To that end, the agency established at least two park-and-rides throughout Kitsap from which buses would transport residents to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard this week.The shipyard put out a communication Wednesday to encourage employees to use mass transit to get to work, said Clauson.In addition to working closely with those agencies, Kitsap Transit tried to accommodate ferry commuters on Tuesday. For several hours Tuesday, WSF officials suspended vehicle use of state ferry vessels except on the Vashon and San Juan islands routes.Most of the federal facilities including the Columbia Tower were closed down in Seattle on Tuesday, said Clauson. And we started to see people coming home really early with the restriction of no automobiles on ferry boats.To help those residents get back home once they left the ferry, Kitsap Transit issued a number of extra buses to each ferry terminal in Kitsap.Basically, whether people normally rode the bus or not, passengers just told the driver where they lived and the operator would take them as close as possible throughout the afternoon and evening.Supervisors and customer-service staff members were also on hand at the ferry terminals to ensure those not familiar with the bus system boarded the right transit vehicle.As a backup, administrative staff members drove out to ferry terminals in transit vans to help take residents home.Kitsap Transit didn't charge fares on Tuesday.The intergovernmental cooperation and coordination amongst all the public safety agencies and Navy continues to be excellent, said Ron McAffee, director of Central Communications. The emergency operation center was activated on Tuesday and at 1 p.m. we called a meeting, which was attended by the local police chiefs, fire chiefs and others. It was impressive to see so many people at that meeting. "