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Fears caused economic damage

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON, D.C | October 25, 2002

"We should never let down our guard but we can't let terrorists of any kind paralyze our way of life."

—Catherine Hoover, George Mason University

Last Saturday morning in a small, family-owned beauty salon near the Maryland-D.C. line, there were no whirring blow dryers, no permanent waves being rolled, and none of the usual chitchat between customers and hairdressers.

Only a few customers were there, said one salon employee. "The first week the shootings happened, nobody came in -- nobody," he said. "Then we had about half our usual business."

Residents breathed a sign of relief Friday after two arrest were made Thursday but the loss of life -- and economic damage -- lingers.

For much of this month, people have been too scared to send their children on field trips, too scared to get their hair trimmed, too scared to get gasoline, too scared to go shopping.

Businesses from beauty salons to hotels to pumpkin patches are feeling the pinch. More important, it's hurting employees -- hairdressers, front desk clerks and gas station attendants -- whose livelihoods depend on people coming out of their homes.

Those who did go to work were nervous about walking through mall parking lots, or working outdoors at nurseries, or even approaching customers.

For some businesses, there were few customers to approach. Thousands of students and adult tourists alike canceled bookings with tour bus companies.

And since outdoor sports were canceled, student athletes may have missed out on potential future scholarship money, since talent scouts may not return to the East Coast end of their circuit.

With some area businesses still gasping from the slump following Sept. 11, it was not a good time for sniper-related anti-consumerism.

When a shooting happened at a location, it was shut down as a crime scene for at least a few days. Then, people still shunned it after it reopened.

It's hard to quantify the economic effects, pointed out Kathy Kohl, a pastoral counselor with the ecumenical Pastoral Counseling and Care Ministries. At first people's behavioral changes aren't that obvious, she said.

"What you think you see are people just going on," she said. "But you don't necessarily see it right at first if somebody decides not to go on, to just stay in their house."

Conversely, some business owners in the heart of D.C. said they saw increased traffic as people shopped or filled their cars with gas before they left the city in hopes of avoiding more vulnerable suburban locations.

Even area pumpkin patches took an economic hit since field trips were canceled. Robin Hill Farm in Brandywine, Md. usually has up to 1,000 schoolchildren a day this time of year. For much of October the farm saw about 60 people -- per week.

Business was off by as much as 50 percent at Larriland Farms in Woodbine, Md.

The sniper attacked so randomly that many people treated shopping and getting gasoline like a gamble, asking themselves: "Should I go to the site of a previous shooting because he's already hit there? Should I go shortly after a shooting because he's unlikely to travel very far to hit again?"

People's personal decisions ended up deeply affecting their entire community, observed Johanna Olson of Lutheran Disaster Response. "It's an imploding of a community when people stop their habits."

If there was a pattern to the attacks, people could have at least make some sort of sick sense of it all, said Stan Hankins of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. "If there was one mode of operation, people might have felt better able to protect themselves. But he attacked in so many different areas and venues. I can't imagine how anybody felt safe."

With the highly visible economic and social impact of the sniper attacks, public concern about future terrorist attacks may have taken a backseat.

But area disaster responders are working hard to prepare the public for the unexpected "next disaster," said Catherine Hoover, director of continuing professional education at the Prince William campus of George Mason University (GMU).

GMU is offering a seminar entitled "Emergency Preparedness: Managing Chaos" Oct. 28-29 at which disaster responders will talk about lessons learned after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Participants will talk about topics that range from crime scene control to effective evacuation to terrorism awareness training," said Hoover. "The lessons learned from 9/11 can carry over to future terrorist incidents -- and even to response to the sniper attacks."

The seminar, which is still open for attendance, will be held at a hotel in the Virginia suburbs but Hoover said she didn't think fear would deter participants.

"This group is used to carrying on their professional lives in tense circumstances. It's their job," she said.

"We should never let down our guard but we can't let terrorists of any kind paralyze our way of life," she said.

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Related Links:

George Mason University Office of Continuing Professional Education

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