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Bombings cause increased vigilance

July 08, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

WASHINGTON COUNTY

gregs@herald-mail.com

Being west of South Mountain feels like it adds a layer of safety when it comes to the possibility of terrorist attacks, area residents said Thursday, but local officials said it's not something to take for granted.

Thursday morning's bombings in London also revived memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States for both residents and those who are charged with protecting them.

Lindsay Hornbaker, 17, and her friend Amanda Timmons, 17, both of Mercersburg, Pa., were at a Hagerstown shopping center Thursday and said they have been to New York City and ridden on the subway.

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Hornbaker said she is not convinced another attack won't happen here in the United States, despite the vast amounts of money being spent by government on homeland security.

Asked if she plans on returning to the city, Hornbaker said, "Not right now. ... I feel safer in Hagerstown."

Local officials reached Thursday said they have been taking increased precautions since 2001, and urged residents to continue to do the same.

Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth said some of those efforts played out Thursday through a series of phone conferences and meetings that started about noon.

Kroboth said as a result of those meetings that there will be stepped up surveillance of local transit systems, including railways and Hagerstown Regional Airport, but he said residents should not notice an increase in visible weapons like after Sept. 11.

Kroboth said that officials went over plans for any mass evacuations that might happen from the metropolitan areas.

"We just ask the public to continue to be aware of their surroundings," Kroboth said.

Both Washington County government and the City of Hagerstown have updated emergency operations plans. Washington County's was adopted last year, and Hagerstown's is in draft form and expected to be finalized in the next few months.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker stressed that residents, even in Hagerstown, should do their part to plan for major catastrophes, whether it is a weather event or a man-made one

"There's a lot of resources out there for people," Hawbaker said. "There's no reason why they shouldn't be prepared."

Alfonso Lenhardt, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Crime Prevention Council, agreed.

"It's gotta be a community effort," Lenhardt said. "One individual alone can't do it, one agency can't do it."

But another area resident said she's not concerned about attacks locally.

"I mostly feel safe," said Paula Courtney, 46, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va. "Maybe I don't think we have anything here worth bombing."

Standing by her minivan in Hagerstown Thursday, she said worrying about terrorist attacks is far from her mind, even though the London bombings were a topic of discussion at her office earlier in the day.

"It just kind of ruins your life if you just set worrying about what might happen," Courtney said.

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