In the days following September 11, 2001, the nation’s celebrated icons - from the Washington Monument to the Transamerica Pyramid - went on lockdown as fears of a next wave of terrorism gripped the country.
The Golden Gate Bridge, an iconic symbol of the country’s buoyant, upstart spirit, closed its public walkways as National Guardsmen armed with M16 rifles took up positions along its postcard views.
"Everybody was in that state of not really knowing what was happening," recalled Golden Gate Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie.
Though the public may not notice the changes, the ten years since the terrorist attacks have brought vast changes to the bridge, which will mark its 75th anniversary next year.
"We’ve spent 15 million dollars on the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Ferry system, Golden Gate Transit systems, upgrading access controls, surveillance equipment, fencing," said Currie staring out at the famous structure.
A walk along the bridge’s 1.7 miles reveals a series of new surveillance cameras trained above, on and below the vast structure. In a small control room near the toll plaza, two officers sit round the clock monitoring giant video screens installed after the 9/11 attacks.
"There’s a lot of technology and a lot of upgrades that have been made," said Currie, "and a lot of training."
While public access to the bridge walkways resumed months after the attacks, roads beneath the bridge have since been gated to public car traffic. A robust metal gate, strong enough to stop a large commercial truck, sits below the bridge’s North end. The road was once a prized shortcut for drivers in-the-know.
But beyond the physical changes inspired by the attacks, was a deep philosophical overhaul. The bridge district teamed up with CHP, the U.S. Coast Guard, US Park Police and other local agencies to increase patrols.
"We have bicycles on patrol here, we have motorcycles on patrol here, we have cars on patrol,” said Amy Mangan, commander of the Marin CHP. “And since 9/11, 2001 those resources have been increased.”
The agencies routinely meet and stage terrorism-response drills. While officials said they’ve never received a credible threat to the bridge, security has been tested. In 2008, a group of pro-Tibetan protesters scaled the bridge’s cables and unfurled a banner. Despite the breach, Mangan insists security measures are working.
"Am I secure in the resources we have deployed today? Absolutely," Magnan said.
With the upcoming 10th anniversary of the attacks approaching, law enforcement will increase its weekend patrols on the bridge. The CHP is suspending time-off for most of its officers. Even so, the increased in security probably won’t register for most visitors.
"In those first couple of years you saw a very visible presence of security,” said Currie. “You don’t see that same visible presence but I want you to know that same presence is here."
On a recent day, the bridge’s sidewalks were crammed with visitors from across the globe. They posed for pictures next its sprawling beams, stared out at its vast views of the Bay. Bicyclists jockeyed for position among the mass of tourists. To the naked eye, there was little evidence of the loss of innocence generated by the attacks on the other end of the country. But beneath the frenzied scene, there was a sense things would never fully revert to their easy-going ways .
"We all need to be committed, we all need to realize what our responsibility is,” said Mangan,”and that it is to never go back to September 10th, 2001."