Terrorism prevention experts say the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., are reminders of how vulnerable the U.S. is. However, they say utilities and cities can take simple steps to safeguard natural resources such as forests and water resources against terrorist attacks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Terrorism prevention experts say the attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. are reminders of how vulnerable the U.S. is. However, they say utilities and cities can take simple steps to safeguard natural resources such as forests and water sources against terrorist attacks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
The terrorist attacks prompted alarm across the nation, and even people in areas that will likely never be the targets of terrorism are wondering aloud about their vulnerability.
Peter Beerings is the terrorism prevention coordinator for the city of Indianapolis, and speaks on the subject across the nation. Beering says because the U.S. has such great wealth well beyond its cities, it is vulnerable.
“We have vast expanses of natural resources, forests, parks, things that we consider to be natural treasures are just as easily national targets. But, it is important, I think, to remember that while we are vulnerable by virtue of our size, that this is not particularly something of interest other than to, perhaps, a single issue aggressor.”
By single issue aggressor, Beering means these areas aren’t likely to be the targets for international terrorists, but are occasionally targeted by fanatics for single causes. For example, forest fires have been ignited to protest development near wilderness areas, and an extortionist threatened to poison the water in Phoenix.
A small town about 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis also has been a target of a terrorist group. Dave Rollo sits on the Bloomington, Indiana Environmental Commission. Last year, environmental terrorists repeatedly hit Bloomington, destroying highway construction equipment, burning a house under construction in a sensitive watershed, and spiking trees in a nearby state forest to prevent logging.
“It really brought terrorism home to a small town such as
Bloomington when this sort of activity usually takes place elsewhere. So, I think that public officials, especially, had to rethink many things about how we– how Bloomington has to safeguard the community from these acts.”
Rollo says one thing is certain. Bloomington lost its complacency about the possibility of terrorism. After a period of fear and confusion, the city is now struggling with the proper security measures.
“How does one go about safeguarding a forest from deliberate arson, or how does one go about safeguarding a water supply the size of Lake Monroe which is the largest lake in Indiana. It’s an enormous challenge.”
And it’s a challenge that governments have been unwilling to talk about publicly, at least until now.
Jim Snyder is a researcher at the University of Michigan. At the direction of the President’s commission on critical infrastructure protection, he co-authorized a report on protecting water systems, possibly the most vulnerable target. But instead of getting information to the water purification plants across the nation, the government buried it, fearing that it might cause panic or give radical ideas.
“Some ten years ago we wrote a manual on how to secure water supplies for the EPA, but because they’re always worried about getting that notion into the public eye –which of course now any of these things are in the public eye– but they basically decided not to distribute that manual.”
Snyder says the manual outlined simple things, such as an emergency response plan, locking gates in sensitive areas and securing wells, and having guards on duty at water plants, things that would dissuade vandals or disgruntled employees. However, Snyder says, there’s little to prevent a determined terrorist with the right knowledge from poisoning a water system, undetected with contaminants small enough to fit in a backpack.
“It is certainly possible to put something in the water (which would go) which would be odorless, colorless, tasteless, uh, and not detected. And, your best indication that you have a problem are sick people or dead people.”
The terrorism prevention experts say no one can predict or prevent all acts of terrorism. But cities and utilities can make it more difficult, and that might be enough to dissuade some of these single-issue aggressors. Peter Beering in Indianapolis says natural resources have one more thing going for them.
“The good news is that these are comparatively uninteresting targets to an aggressor. And, as we learned, unfortunately, in New York and in Washington, that certainly there are much higher profile targets that are of much greater interest to people who are upset with the United States.”
Beering adds that should not be an excuse to ignore the risks to natural resources. He recommends every municipality assess its risks and take proper measures to secure its vulnerable areas.