Although there are various reports on the untrustworthiness of people’s memories — even for such formative events as “where you were when JFK was shot” and “what you were doing when you heard about 9-11” and other American examples that come to mind — I can say with some certainty that I participated in TOPOFF on 15 May 2003, because I have photographs and the t-shirt as material evidence.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the SARS outbreak — and in anticipation of bio-warfare and swine flue — our high school was chosen as a
bomb shelter key location for a safety drill. (It does look like a bomb shelter.) Here is an excerpt from the PAC minutes (a fancy version of the PTA):
IMSA will participate in TOPOFF… a nationwide drill to test for responsiveness to various domestic or foreign attacks. The Chicago test will simulate a biochemical attack and IMSA would be the distribution site for pharmaceuticals in the event of such an attack. IMSA students and staff members would have first priority for the pharmaceuticals. IMSA is working with city, county and state officials in preparation for the event.
Shockingly, I was chosen as one of the people who got to pretend to have a panic attack during the drill. Then my ex-boyfriend (which is a fancy way of saying now-husband!) ditched out to see a movie. Possibly Batman.
During our faux line-up-and-look-for-your-missing-family-members drill, the coordinators asked us if we had been in a populated area recently (such as Chicago’s Union Station). Based on our responses, they sorted us into different groups and moved us to various parts of the school (read: one of the two accessible gymnasiums). It was fairly zombie-apocalypse-trippy.
While riding the train in New Jersey recently, I was reminded of this formative zombie-prep experience when I found this handy little card shelved alongside the train schedules:
Apparently, you can indeed “call or text against terror” in the fine state of NJ. This will serve my mother and MIL well, as they are both highly suspect of abandoned cell phones at Navy Pier and all litter, respectively. (Meanwhile, my dad’s response to the abandoned cell phone was to pick it up and start hitting all of the keys, happily declaring that the owner must be French!, and then dialing all of the last dialed numbers until a confused French lady answered the phone, someone came back to pick it up, and mercis were exchanged.)
Likewise, on the Metra and CTA in Chicago, they make frequent announcements about watching your possessions, looking out for suspicious suitcases, and so forth. In Ottawa, Canada, there are ample notices posted gently warning everyone that it is rude to wear too much perfume on the bus, as others may be allergic or find it offensive. So, you know, people are dealing with perceived threats as best they can.
In the aftermath of the NYC Good Samaritan who was ignored (and, unbelievably, photographed!) by passerby, I felt my consciousness raised briefly, and I did call in to report a fight in Dunton Tower (stay classy, Carleton). However, research since then has shown that, as a species, we remain blissfully unaware of our inattentional blindness to most street fights.
All that to say, if you see something, you probably should say something (or risk being shunted into the dark and scary gym at IMSA), but you aren’t all that likely to see it (or you’ll see a discarded coffee cup and refuse to enter the parking lot). Either way, the future looks promising.