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Preparing for the worst-Summit's focus is terrorism protection

November 10, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - About 370 state and federal government officials and members of emergency response companies from the Eastern Panhandle and across the state kicked off a two-day meeting at a training center near Shepherdstown Sunday to determine the best way to protect state residents from possible terrorist attacks.

The West Virginia Summit on Homeland Security will feature respected experts in the terrorism field, including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who is expected to speak at the summit this afternoon.

Others scheduled to speak at the summit at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center are Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, and officials from agencies including West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia National Guard.

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Co-hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the summit is designed to give local officials including firefighters, police officers, hospital administrators and business leaders access to high-level experts in the terrorism field, said Mark Ferrell, Rockefeller's press secretary.

Doing so allows local officials to obtain the information they need to effectively protect communities from possible terrorist attacks, Ferrell said.

Local emergency preparedness officials also got the opportunity to see high-tech equipment that will be sent to six emergency response teams across the state to help them deal with possible terrorist attacks or other disasters such as industrial accidents, fires and floods.

The equipment, which includes portable decontamination units, robots that can retrieve explosives and protective clothing for emergency responders, was displayed in a large parking area at the training center along Shepherd Grade Road.

The summit is being held because West Virginia has special concerns that need to be addressed, Rockefeller said. The issues include special needs related to the state's proximity to large metropolitan areas, including the Eastern Panhandle, Rockefeller said.

One of the concerns about protecting people from terrorist attacks is lack of funding for the efforts, Rockefeller said as he inspected the emergency response equipment Sunday afternoon.

But Rockefeller was encouraged by the progress while making his tour.

"I'm seeing things I've never seen before, so we're on our way," Rockefeller said.

There is a wealth of talent in the state in law enforcement, the health field and in emergency preparedness, and West Virginia is ahead of most states in collaborating on the terrorist threat issue, Rockefeller said.

"We should be very proud of the work that has already been done, but we should also be very honest about the work that remains," Rockefeller said in an open letter to participants in the summit, which also was hosted by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation Inc.

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