Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Hamilton County braces for terrorism

By Dan Klepal dklepal@enquirer.com
and Dan Horn dhorn@enquirer.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County officials say they are better prepared today for a terrorist attack because of a $1.5 million investment in anti-terror equipment. Unfortunately, they say, the new equipment won't tell them if the latest terrorist threats mean the county is a target.

        The new equipment, purchased with a federal grant, will be used to detect chemical and biological attacks.

  To prepare for the worst, agencies all over the region will work together on drills throughout the summer. Among them:
  • The Cincinnati Fire Department will conduct a bio-terrorism drill with the National Guard and the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit on Aug. 12.
  • Hamilton County will hold 10 regional workshops, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, from June 19 to 20. Officials will discuss how a terror attack could affect transportation systems.
  • A drill and equipment display by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team will be held at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds on May 28.
  “We all hope this is a wasted effort,” Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer said.
        County commissioners said Monday the new equipment will help, but they conceded there still is little anyone can do to predict when or where an attack will occur.

        That uncertainty has been an issue for several days as govern ment agencies across the country have struggled to deal with another round of vague threats.

        Top White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have said intelligence information suggests another attack could come at any time.

        Local officials say such a broad warning is of little practical help in planning for a terrorist attack.

        They say the best they can do is be as ready as possible in case the worst happens.

        “The information is so generic and general that it's hard to make specific decisions about how (security) should be strengthened,” said Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency.

        “We're just trying to do what we can at this point to be prepared.”

        The same is true for other agencies, from the Cincinnati Police Department to the Water Works to the Metropolitan Sewer District.

        Spokesmen for all of those agencies say they have upgraded security since Sept. 11 but have made no additional changes because of the most recent threats.

        “We're not sure how much more can be done,” said Lt. Kurt Byrd, spokesman for the police department.

        In the eight months since the Sept. 11 attacks, more money and resources have been committed to emergency planning.

        The commitment includes the $1.5 million in new equipment, as well as greater coordination between local, state and federal law enforcement officials.

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