Key city functions on alert as terror scare continues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Local officials say vigilance is the key to a prudent local response to the national anthrax scare and the overall threat of bioterrorism.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Local officials say vigilance is the key to a prudent local response to the national anthrax scare and the overall threat of bioterrorism.

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From the careful handling of mail to the reporting of suspicious activities to local police, Albert Leans cannot take their security for granted, said City Manager Paul Sparks.

&uot;It’s fair to say that we’re all at a heightened alert since the Sept. 11 attacks,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;These most recent threats have made the situation even more serious. We know it’s unlikely that something would happen here, but we still have to be ready for anything.&uot;

The city decided weeks ago to take some extra precautions to guard against any possible terroristic threat. Security has been added to the city’s water treatment facilities to prevent any tampering. Airport officials have a list of federally mandated precautions, and police have also been instructed to take seriously any reports of suspicious activity.

&uot;I think that’s how we can ultimately overcome this threat. If the public is vigilant, and alerts police to anything peculiar, it will be more difficult to pull off any harmful activity,&uot; Sparks said.

With much of the anthrax threat centered on U.S. mail, workers at local post offices have been instructed to take extra precautions.

&uot;The Postal Inspection Service has a lot of experience with threats of chemical or biological agents, but nearly all of them are hoaxes,&uot; said Jim Stanley, communication specialist with the U.S. Postal Service Midwest office. &uot;We’ve had security measures in place for a long time. Now we’ve tightened them.&uot;

Stanley said the postal service is just as concerned about copycat hoaxes and pranks as it is about use of their service by terrorists. Letters are turning up all over the country with white powder which usually turns out to be baking soda.

&uot;Especially with Halloween coming up, we’re afraid there are a lot of people who will be unwitting accomplices to the terrorists. They should know that kind of activity could land them in jail,&uot; he said.

&uot;Nevertheless, our workers are instructed to take each instance seriously.&uot;

Buddy Ferguson, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health, said no anthrax cases have been found in the state. But several scares have put the general public on edge. As of Monday, the department had responded to five cases of mysterious white powdery substances across the state from the scores of reports that flooded law enforcement agencies.

&uot;The department is very involved in the evaluation of these incidents. It’s not overstating to say that we’re being flooded with calls and questions,&uot; he said.

Although any anthrax threat to Minnesotans is minimal, the health department is taking precautions, Ferguson said. Hospitals and clinics in the state have been instructed to look for suspicious symptoms as an early warning in the event an anthrax case turns up.

&uot;Like all public-health organizations, we’ve been looking at and preparing for scenarios like anthrax for years. We have a response system in place,&uot; he said.

The most important message to the general public is one of reassurance, Ferguson said. Out of all the reports, only a few anthrax cases have been confirmed, and the nation has committed all its public health and law enforcement resources to contain the threat.

&uot;We all need to stay on our toes, but panic or overreaction only adds to the confusion,&uot; he said.