Today we mark the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While there are several meaningful ways to remember those who died on that terrible day – attend a memorial service, perform an act of community service or participate in a National Preparedness Month drill – I think one of the most important things we can do is read the 9/11 Commission Report, formally named the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Honoring and Remembering

While reading an 11-year old, 500-page government document may not seem too appealing, I believe this candid and insightful report is timeless and relevant. Not only does the report respectfully honor the lives of those who were taken by the 19 terrorist hijackers, but it provides factual, moving details of those firefighters, police officers, U.S. military personnel and ordinary citizens who performed great acts of courage to rescue strangers from the fire and debris of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Reading the details of those selfless acts of humanity performed by hundreds of men and women makes the report relevant to any generation.

Imagination Is Foresight

Another compelling reason to read the 9/11 Commission Report is because it does something both astonishing and refreshing for a government-sponsored report: it devotes an entire section to the power of imagination. In Chapter 11, Foresight – And Hindsight, imagination is highlighted as one of the most important tools we can use to fight global terrorism.

“It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination.” (Section 11.1 IMAGINATION, p. 344)

As the report suggests, imagination is an integral part of foresight – it leads us to be better prepared if our nation were ever to be faced with such an attack again. We owe it to all those who lost their lives to harness the power of imagination and:

  1. Think through the steps necessary to launch a surprise attack
  2. Develop indicators for the most dangerous possibilities of a successful attack
  3. Collect intelligence and information about potential indicators and triggers of a surprise attack
  4. Develop protective measures and triggers to mitigate an attack[1]
  5. Consider worst case terrorism, criminal, natural disaster and technological incident scenarios
  6. Host “an imagination” workshop and brainstorm new solutions to response and recovery operations
  7. Develop new intelligence and information-sharing relationships
  8. Plan and execute an emergency response exercise with new community groups
  9. Conduct an unannounced drill
  10. Conduct a drill or exercise without using any technology
  11. Invest in new technologies to overcome resource gaps 
  12. Identify how an adversary could successfully use your own assets, operations and disaster plans against you

Today, we all think back to where we were, what we were doing and the emotions we felt on that sad September day. But we must also continue to look forward to the future of our country. I’d like to suggest you should all read the 9/11 Commission Report because it reminds us that exercising our collective imagination remains our most potent weapon against complacency.


[1]              Steps 1-4 are recommended in Chapter 11 of the 9/11 Report.