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Progress being made in West Virginia on fight against terror

November 10, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Steve Allen says work has been progressing on developing a special response team that would respond to any terrorist attacks in the Eastern Panhandle.

Allen is the director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services, the agency in charge of responding to a wide range of emergencies in the county.

But Allen said despite the efforts, the burning question has been: Where is the equipment needed for such an attack?

Allen was feeling more at ease at the opening of the West Virginia Summit on Homeland Security Sunday.

Spread across a parking lot of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center was an array of special equipment that is expected to be made available to emergency response agencies to help them deal with possible terrorist attacks.

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There was a pop-up decontamination tent, which included showers where victims of bioterrorism attacks could be washed down by rescue crews.

At another demonstration area, a building collapse was being simulated. The scene included two smashed-up cars amid debris including slabs of concrete and pieces of guardrail.

An emergency worker demonstrated a new concrete chain saw by sawing a small hole through one of the concrete slabs. The opening allowed another worker to demonstrate another new gadget, a search camera that can be used to look for people trapped in a building collapse.

The camera was passed through the hole using a long black pole. The device, which also has a microphone system that allows rescuers to speak to trapped victims, costs about $25,000, the demonstrators said.

"It's definitely got everybody excited," Allen said, referring to the equipment.

At another location, West Virginia State Police were demonstrating a robot that can be used to retrieve explosives. The robot comes with 1,600 feet of cable, which allows troopers to safety reach into an unsecured area to retrieve explosives, Trooper Anthony Webb said.

The devices represented some of the equipment that will be sent to six separate emergency response teams in the state, said Neal Sharp, director of the state Office of Emergency Services.

The emergency response team that will serve the Eastern Panhandle will be referred to as Region 3, Sharp said.

With 25 members already making up the Region 3 team, the group is ready to go and its federally-funded equipment could begin arriving within days, Sharp said.

Some of the remaining work includes identifying a site to store the equipment, Sharp said.

Allen said that already has been determined. It will be stored in the Berkeley County Ambulance Authority's Inwood, W.Va., station along Arden Nollville Road, Allen said.

Other local emergency officials also were encouraged by the progress that is being made in preparing the Eastern Panhandle for possible terrorist attacks.

The equipment being demonstrated Sunday "is beyond the scope of any one county," said Ed Smith, chief of the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va.

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