COUNTY FORMS GROUP TO DEAL WITH TERRORISM

October 05, 2001 11:00 pm

GOLD BEACH Curry County is forming an anti-terrorism task force as part of a national plan to deal with terrorism, said Sheriff Kent Owens Wednesday.

Owens met with the county commissioners that morning and issued a press release saying the federal government is forming regional anti-terrorism task forces.

They will coordinate and disseminate information, and aid in the development of investigative and prosecutorial strategies for dealing with terrorism.

The federal Department of Justice will guide each task force, detail the operational plan to prevent terrorism and provide briefings about terrorist activities in each region of the country.

The Curry County task force to be put together by Owens will receive information from intelligence obtained by federal agencies.

It will coordinate implementation of the operation plan to prevent terrorism.

It will also be responsible for organizing a coordinated response to any terrorist incident in Curry County.

The sheriff will pass on information to the commissioners, who will keep the public as informed as possible.

There may also be federal funds available to the county for task force planning and training.

Owens told The Pilot Thursday thats what law enforcement personnel and emergency responders need most.

Right now, he said, they dont have the expertise to know how to respond to a terrorist attack, or even to be able to tell such an attack from a more ordinary crime.

He was keeping up with news of the bus assault that shut down all Greyhound buses for seven hours Thursday.

That turned out to not be a terrorist attack, but Owens point was that no one knew what to make of it at first.

He said training would help law enforcement personnel in Curry County react appropriately, and not over-or-under-react.

As we know more, said Owens, we need to get that to the public. We need to separate truth from fiction, and the task force will do that.

Raising the level of training and awareness may be the greatest benefit of the task force, said Owens, but he did not rule out the possibility of an actual terrorist attack in Curry County.

We know there is going to be continued terrorist acts in our country, he said. There could be the use of chemical or biological weapons in Curry County and we need to be prepared for that.

He said fire and medical responders are always training. We need to bring it to the next level.

While training in individual disciplines is important, said Owens, We need to train together too.

He said the fire departments need to train with the police. They need to know what the police need for security, and how to record evidence and preserve a crime scene.

Owens said the police also need to know how to best assist and protect fire personnel if they are called out to decontaminate in a chemical or biological attack.

He said the task force will help centralize communications. He said it would identify areas that didnt function properly on Sept. 11.

In the past, said Owens, Weve trained for bomb threats, earthquakes, and tsunamis, which are more likely than a terrorist act. But this is a new area, and we need new equipment.

We never thought about crashing planes into buildings before, said Owens. He believes terrorists will continue to do the unexpected.

He fears dams and chemical stockpiles could be targets. Chemical and biological attacks could be a reality.

Its a new era, said Owens. Whether it happens or not, he said of a terrorist attack, we need to prepare for it.

He said the task force will involve all law enforcement personnel in the county, all fire agencies, the county health department, and school and hospital personnel.