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Officials ready for possible terrorism

March 20, 2003|By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Local government and utility officials Wednesday say they are as prepared as they can be for the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Officials with the Hagerstown and Washington County governments, the Washington County Board of Education, the Washington County Health Department and Allegheny Energy said they have plans for various situations, including terrorist attacks.

The governments, along with agencies such as the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross, have been coordinating their plans to avoid duplication or missed areas, said Cindy Kline, Red Cross director of emergency services.

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Washington County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said he was trying to coordinate another meeting of the agencies by the end of this week to review the plans.

Officials said they did not expect terrorists to strike in Washington County but they want to be prepared just in case.

Most of the agencies had emergency plans in place prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks but the plans were updated and adjusted afterward and continue to be revised, agency officials said.

"They are a living document -- they change on a regular basis," Kroboth said.

In addition to having a districtwide emergency plan, each Washington County Board of Education school has its own emergency plan, schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said. The plans specify what should be done in a variety of scenarios, she said.

Representatives of the governments said it is hard to prepare for the possibility of war-related terrorist attacks without knowing what form the terrorism might take. But they said they are prepared for various possibilities.

Washington County has asked its employees, as well as other residents, to call 911 if they see unusual activity, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

That could result in more 911 calls about problems that turn out not to be criminal or terrorist in nature, but the county prefers law enforcement officials to make that determination, Kroboth said.

Washington County and Hagerstown government officials said precautions are being taken to protect water supplies.

Allegheny Energy and Hagerstown Light Department officials said they have taken steps to protect electrical power.

Washington County Hospital has coordinated plans and communications with police, fire and rescue, public officials and the health department, Dr. Robert Brooks, Washington County Hospital vice president of medical affairs said.

The hospital has increased supplies of some equipment and drugs and sent staff members for additional bioterrorism training, he said.

About 15 Washington County Health Department and Washington County Hospital employees have received the smallpox vaccine in recent weeks.

Health care workers were asked to voluntarily be inoculated against the disease as part of an effort to prepare for the possibility of a smallpox outbreak.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked all states to have some health care workers vaccinated so they could be immune to the disease in case of an outbreak. They then would be able to give the vaccine to others and, if necessary, provide medical care to anyone infected with smallpox.

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