County prepares for possible terrorism

By KATE REARDON

Herald Writer

EVERETT — World Trade Center bombing, 1993. Tokyo Subway nerve agent attack, 1995. Oklahoma City bombing, 1995.

Terrorists can strike anywhere. The threat is real, especially in places where there’s a high-visibility target.

Although no threats have been made against Snohomish County sites such as Naval Station Everett or the Boeing Co., emergency and law-enforcement officials are preparing in case someone makes one.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently issued the county $100,000 to buy equipment so emergency workers can deal with the threat or aftermath of a terrorist attack.

"It’s really hard to say what the potential risks are in the area," said Roger Serra, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Management.

"All we’re trying to do here is be certain that the county has plans, training and resources to provide immediate response to a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) incident."

New equipment includes detection kits, masks, self-contained breathing apparatus and personal protective suits.

The supplies are for crews who arrive first on a scene, such as city of Everett police officers and firefighters, the county bomb team and the county’s hazardous materials team, Serra said.

"We’ve seen an increase in terrorism in the United States, and I think it’s pro-active on the government’s part to be prepared for that," said Dave DeHaan, deputy chief of special operations with the city’s fire department. "The likelihood of it happening here? It’s fairly remote. It’s always a good time to get it (supplies and training), before you have an incident."

Thinking in terms of potential terrorist activity, you plan and prepare for the worst, said Michael Gaffney, research coordinator at the division of government studies and services in the political science department at Washington State University.

"It’s good from a strategic point of view to prepare as much as you can," he said. "We train not so we will have to use our training, but in hopes that we’ll never have to use it."

Terrorists often perceive a huge disparity in power, wealth and participation, and hope to draw attention through their acts, Gaffney said.

Jeanie Kitchens, public affairs officer at Naval Station Everett, would not discuss the Navy’s readiness in dealing with terrorism.

"We don’t discuss the specifics of our security procedures," she said. "Our people do receive training and do work well with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Everett Police Department."

The Navy, however, has its own police force, fire department and paramedics.

Boeing’s fire and security departments also cooperate in mutual aid planning with local law enforcers, Boeing spokesman Dean Tougas said.

"There is a companywide risk management and emergency response process that we use," Tougas said. "We do prepare for emergencies, major mass casualty types of incidents. In Everett, we’ve done emergency fire drills on airplane crash scenarios. That’s a good example of the kind of cooperation we have with local firefighters and security people."

Tougas said Boeing officials would not discuss levels of preparation in case of a terrorist attack.

"There’s a pretty high level of preparation, and a lot of it is behind the scenes, and obviously the average citizens isn’t going to be aware of the preparations being made," he said. "People in the community can feel there is a pretty high level of preparedness."

Serra said in applying for the grant, various agencies in the county determined what kind of equipment was needed.

"This is the first time Snohomish County has been given the grant," Serra said, adding that the county plans to apply for more grant money this year for additional supplies.

In the past, the county has been prepared to deal with meth labs and chemical spills, but not terrorism. The key element in terrorist acts is that emergency personal must also treat the site as a crime scene, Serra said.

If terrorists do strike in Snohomish County, other agencies such as the FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency and state Department of Emergency Management would likely become involved, he said.

Everett’s new equipment includes 47 masks for officers, two air-detection kits and a training kit for the fire department. By next year, police should have enough filtering masks — about 120 — for all officers, Police Chief Jim Scharf said.

"We can feel safe putting them out to do their jobs," Scharf said.

The best thing residents can do if a terrorist attack occurs is to cooperate with emergency officials, Serra said, adding that public education could be the next step in preparation.

"Certainly, common sense is very important," he said.

Besides new equipment, local agencies are developing a response plan and are coordinating training.

Serra said the provisions are not necessarily a sign of something to come, but a sign of increasing the readiness of emergency crews.

"All we can do is continually prepare and heighten our level of readiness," Serra said. "Terrorism has no boundaries and no timelines."

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