Originally created 09/23/96

Disaster drill to focus on domestic terrorism



In the past, there were tornadoes, train derailments and plane crashes.

This year, it's a terrorist bomb.

For Richmond County responders whose upcoming disaster drill will focus on a bomb explosion, it's a sign of changing times.

"It was agreed upon by everyone at our planning meeting that these type of attacks are something we need to be prepared for," said Richmond County Emergency Management Agency Director Pam Tucker.

The Oct. 11 mock disaster, with about 1,500 participants, involves the scenario of a bomb explosion during a crowded civic center event.

Such exercises - held every other year - typically focus on more traditional catastrophes. "But today, domestic terrorism could take priority as a greater risk than some other types of disasters," Ms. Tucker said.

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City blast, TWA Flight 800 explosion and the Centennial Park bombing, authorities everywhere are increasingly aware of the vulnerability of crowded public events and repositories of chemicals.

Augusta should learn all it can from the responses mounted in Oklahoma City and Atlanta after unforeseen terrorists attacks, according to Tom Roberts, a Martinez-based security consultant.

Interest in anti-terrorism measures among industries and emergency responders is evidence of the growing threat, he said. For example, an Aug. 21 conference on explosive threats attracted about 300 people.

That conference was first planned as an in-house seminar for Savannah River Site personnel, said Westinghouse Savannah River Co. spokeswoman Susie Grant.

"We'd never focused a lot on explosive threats so they wanted a program for that," she said. "Then we started getting calls from other people who had an interest and who wanted to share ideas."

Although crowded public events and government buildings typically are terrorist targets, Augusta's density of industries that store or use dangerous chemicals also warrants concern, Mrs. Tucker said.

"In the last five years, since the World Trade Center explosion, industries have increased their security many fold," she said. "At facilities where they use large amounts of chemicals, they especially want sufficient security."

Augusta's major industries have a longstanding concern with security that's become heightened in the advent of domestic terrorism.

"We've certainly talked about it, but we haven't brought in a lot of extra people," said Brandt Bonin, safety and environmental manager at Amoco Performance Products in Richmond County. "But we maintain a secure posture, in general, because a lot of our affairs are proprietary.

"We also have corporate security at Amoco. If there were an increased probability of activity, we'd know internally and decide what needs to be done."

In addition to SRS and industries, nondefense-related government operations also are increasingly concerned about terrorism.

Thurmond Dam, which backs 70,000 acres of water into a giant reservoir above Augusta, was built to withstand earthquakes and other catastrophes.

"You could even fly a 747 into it and it wouldn't break," said Jim Parker of the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the project.

But other threats exist, such as a control room where floodgates could be made to release enough water to flood Augusta.

"We don't discuss our specific security plans," Mr. Parker said. "But we've reviewed our plans in light of the events of the last year or two and made appropriate adjustments.

"We feel very comfortable with the level of security at our power plants and control rooms," he said. "And we're confident of the contingencies that would be in place were there to be any effort to damage the structure or to somehow make their way into the control room to create some hazard."