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W,Va, citizens will be on guard against terror

February 25, 2002|By DAVE McMILLION

State officials are putting together an organization that will use a network of volunteers to identify any possible terrorist activity that could occur around probable targets such as water reservoirs or railroads, a Jefferson County official said.

The organization, known as West Virginia Watch, will be headed up by a statewide coordinator named by Gov. Bob Wise, Jefferson County Commission President James K. Ruland said last week.

Each county will be asked to name a coordinator, who will oversee a group of volunteers, Ruland said.

Each volunteer will be responsible for keeping an eye on specific landmarks or facilities that could become a terrorist target, such as a water reservoir, an electric generating facility or a rail yard where railroad cars filled with chemicals are often located, Ruland said.

For the volunteers, the task can be as simple as observing the facilities every day on the way to work.

Any suspected terrorist activity would be reported to the state director through a toll-free telephone number, Ruland said.

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"This is a small piece of a larger fabric, but nonetheless an important one," Ruland said at the commissioners' meeting Thursday.

The mostly rural Eastern Panhandle would provide a good place for a terrorist to build a bomb, hide materials or plan an attack on another part of the country, local officials have said.

A group that was organized in Jefferson County to address possible challenges created by the so-called Y2K threat in 1999 could be reactivated to carry out West Virginia Watch in Jefferson County, Ruland said.

Emergency Services Director Darrell Penwell, who will head up the local effort, said local residents are anxious to participate.

Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said he has not been notified of the effort.

Strauss said he would want to get input from Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith and Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services, on how to proceed.

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