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"Infamy - Evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal."

- Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Ninth Edition

May 28, 1998, was a day of infamy. On this day, Pakistan, in response to a series of nuclear tests by India, detonated nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Japanese police found eight cylinders containing 353 pounds of hydrogen fluoride buried on a mountain by members of the Aura Shinri Kyo doomsday cult, the group responsible for the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Unfortunately, in the recent past, we've experienced far too many days of infamy, days from which no NEHA member is immune. For those in industry, remember the World Trade Center. For those in government, remember Oklahoma City. For those in academia, remember the Unabomber. For those in the uniformed services, remember the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

According to Dale Watson, Chief of the International Terrorism Section of the FBI, "Terrorism is increasingly an indiscriminate crime. There are obvious operational considerations that limit what we can discuss in an open forum about the presence of terrorist groups in the United States. I can tell you that the FBI has identified a significant and growing organizational presence here."

Are you prepared for your turn at counterterrorism? In February 1997, two members of a Minnesota group were convicted of manufacturing the biological agent ricin in an attempt to murder law enforcement officers. In May 1997, an Ohio man was arrested for unlawfully purchasing bubonic plague. It is still unclear why he purchased the biological agent or what he intended to do with it. During the construction of many of the Tennessee Valley Authority's nuclear power plants, unidentified subcontractors were used. No one knows what access they had to restricted areas and classified documents, including construction plans for the facilities. If the events made possible by these situations had been carried to fruition and had occurred within your jurisdiction, would you have been prepared to take part in the response? Would you have known what the proper response was?

During the past five years, an increasing number of terrorist organizations have developed command of technology - and the expertise to use it - for fundraising, recruiting, and even operational planning. Several organizations with significant terrorist components maintain a regular presence on the Internet. For example, Hamas, Hizballah, and at least one latin American group maintain their own home pages that include propaganda material and recruiting information.

How does a free society respond to such threats? As recent events have shown, this "web of terrorism" perpetuates violence upon violence and poses a particular challenge to nations like the United States that take a firm stand against terrorism. In the May 1998 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, Past President Chris Wiant addressed the issue of what role environmental health specialists should take in protecting our communities. Some of the steps he proposed for countering terrorism are easily accomplished; many are not, however, because we lack knowledge of terrorism. It is, therefore, imperative that NEHA, as the national leader in environmental health, provide the opportunity for environmental health professionals to learn from the experts. In turn, this knowledge must then be put to use in communities throughout the country to keep us prepared to counter terrorist threats if, God forbid, they should arise.

That is the rationale for our proposed conference on the environmental health response to nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism. To successfully protect against a terrorist event, environmental health must be an integral part of a unified response from agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Many federal agencies, such as the FBI, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Public Health Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, already are working toward this objective. A conference of the type proposed would allow us to learn what we need to do so that environmental health can assume its role at the nucleus of the response to terrorist incidents.

In closing, I would mention that in the dictionary, the definition for "infamy" is followed immediately by the definition for "infancy" Think about it.
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Title Annotation:counter-terrorist initiatives
Author:Gist, Ginger L.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Previous Article:The benefit to you.
Next Article:Geographic information systems: their use in environmental epidemiological research.

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