Preparation is still the best defense

Saturday, February 22, 2003

The last few weeks have been particularly stressful for Americans as the Muslim hajj and Eid al-Adha observances came and went. Homeland security officials feared the holiday would touch off terrorism and raised the nation's alert level to orange, which is its second-highest level. Some Americans rushed to hardware stores for plastic sheeting and duct tape to block windows, doors and vents in case chemical, biological or radiological weapons were used.

In such an atmosphere, it's good to know that local police take such threats seriously and are availing themselves of information from the FBI and other agencies.

Living in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois makes most residents feel secure, and with good reason. The problems that plague larger cities are virtually unknown here. We read about the violence in St. Louis and shake our heads.

But biological, chemical and radiological terrorism don't know urban from rural. To that end, the Anti-Terrorism Task Force Eastern District of Missouri has been formed, and Lt. Tracy Lemonds of the Cape Girardeau Police Department is a member.

He said he attends monthly meetings of the group and receives information from different sources, which he distributes to the entire department.

Just last week, a handout explained signs of an impending terrorist attack. It is a quick reference card that officers can carry with them and use when needed.

And law enforcement nationwide recently received copies of the Chemical, Biological and Radiological Incident Handbook, a 1998 document maintained by the CIA that contains information about the various terms, dangers and history of these kinds of weapons.

The ATTF has improved communication among law-enforcement agencies in general, Lemonds said. The group includes representatives from the St. Louis area, and members hear presentations on emergency responses, get the latest information about terrorism and share their own experience.

Lemonds said he receives almost daily e-mail from the U.S. Attorney General's office with bulletins and alerts.

Area residents are interested in this kind of information as well. Lemonds said they occasionally call the police department asking how to prepare for a terrorist attack.

He gives them basically the same advice that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge gave the nation this week, kicking off the "Ready Campaign."

Keep a three-day supply of food, water and medicine, an emergency kit for your home and car and radios with extra batteries.

Keep face masks or dense-weave cotton cloth for breathing protection.

Educate yourself about different kinds of attacks through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site or the Ready Campaign Web site: www.ready.gov.

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