County prepares for terrorism
SUMMIT COUNTY – Sheriff Joe Morales said considering such potentially gruesome events as a bombing of the Dillon Dam or a county anthrax exposure has become part of his daily activities.
“It’s almost referred to as the new normal,” he said. “We’re still doing all the normal stuff, but now, in addition to ski thefts, we’re working on counter-terrorism issues.”
Morales is one of several sheriffs statewide working with the Colorado Office of Preparedness, Security and Fire Safety (OPS) to create their own plans for responses to terrorism.
While public health officials consider how they’ll handle bioterrorism or a terrorist attack, the state’s emergency workers are creating a separate plan under the OPS. The OPS include the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado State Patrol and the Office of Emergency Management.
That group is “leading an effort that includes first responders, health care officials, firefighters, police chiefs, fire chiefs and sheriffs,” said Patti Grisanti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. “It is a collaborative effort, but CSP has been tasked with getting all these people in rooms to discuss terrorism planning.”
Colorado’s OPS also is intended to be a conduit for supporting counterterrorism measures and programs of the federal office of homeland security.
Part of the OPS plan calls for identifying buildings and other infrastructure that might be vulnerable to an attack.
In Summit County, the Dillon and Green Mountain dams and the Eisenhower Tunnel are likely targets for terrorist attacks, believe members of the OPS.
“You hate to think it’s a reality, but it is real,” Grisanti said. “We can’t buy into the it-can’t-happen-here philosophy because that’s just not true. It can happen anywhere, and we have to be prepared.”
Like the public health plans, most of the OPS planning is focused on updating existing emergency management strategies, said Grisanti
Morales said Summit County law enforcement officers are “ahead of the curve.”
“Several years ago, we started weapons of mass destruction training,” he said, adding county officials have also considered almost every other scenario.
For example, Morales said, they’ve considered how to evacuate Frisco in the event of a major hazardous materials spill. If someone were exposed to anthrax, he said, local emergency responders know that person can’t be taken to the Summit Medical Center immediately.
“You just can’t take an exposed patient into the medical center because you can contaminate the whole center,” he said, “so you have to do a decontamination process outside the facility.”
The county’s plans go beyond those scenarios, Morales said.
“Our focus is to try to have a process in place that counters terrorism and not just reacts to it,” he said.
Silverthorne Police Chief John Patterson said handling natural events, such as this summer’s wildfires, is also part of the plans.
“The wildland fires triggered a whole discussion on evacuation plans countywide, which could also pertain to a flood,” he said. “If we shut down the expressway, we have plans in place to deal with those sorts of things, so we’re just expanding on what we’ve already done.”
“All we’re trying to do is cover all of our bases and make sure that we include every aspect we can possibly think of,” said CSP Major Anthony Padilla.
Padilla is charged with coordinating the plan preparations in the Summit County region, which also includes the counties of Park, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Boulder.
“Every part of the state is different,” Padilla said. “So we just want to make sure we have a plan in place for response to each area based on the unique needs of each area.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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