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Response plan takes new steps.

Byline: DIANE DIETZ The Register-Guard

If a terrorist should attack Eugene, the city is ready to help victims and minimize the loss of life, officials say.

A four-member team of midlevel managers spent 10 days crafting a seven-page chapter on terrorism to add to the city's emergency response plan.

"The good part about Eugene is we don't sit back and wait for something to happen," said Eugene Police Capt. Steve Swenson, a member of the team. "We try to plan. We learn from other people's events and mistakes and try to prepare as well as we can."

Springfield is working on a similar plan and hopes to have a draft in place by March. Lane County is using a generic terrorism-response plan while officials draft a specific local plan during the next six months.

Eugene unveiled its plan during a week in which the White House issued a third warning of a potential terrorist attack on civilians in the United States.

The city's new plan identifies the possible types of attacks, from sarin gas to bubonic plague to nuclear explosions. It lists potential targets, such as the Eugene Airport, Eugene Water and Electric Board reservoirs and a private gasoline tank farm.

And the plan recognizes the special problems involved with a large-scale attack, such as debris removal.

"You can eliminate your landfill overnight," said Chuck Solin, a member of the terrorism planning team. "Where would you relocate the Short Mountain landfill? Where would the backup landfill be if we were to wipe out that capacity instantly? That's a major issue."

The new plan acknowledges that local cities and counties would be on their own for hours if not days after an attack

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Health and Human Services Department have promised to come to the aid of any city, but moving people and equipment takes time.

Swenson explained: "There's somewhat of a perception out there that if you have a big event, you hit the federal FEMA button and all of a sudden this big shadow forms over your city and you're flooded with all these resources, and all you've got to do is stand back and let them do their job, and that's not the case."

Testing the plan

The next step for Eugene is to "exercise" its new terrorism response plan with a simulated terrorist attack.

The terrorism preparedness team is planning a shakedown for this February with a soon-to-be-defined exercise designed to test communications, liaisons with other agencies and staff training.

"We always find things that we need to fine tune when we do that," Solin said. "We're constantly modifying and tweaking so that it meets our needs."

Team members also will participate in a Jan. 10 exercise that Sacred Heart Medical Center is organizing for the region's hospitals, doctors, law enforcement agencies, Red Cross and emergency medical technicians.

In the three-hour exercise, participants will react to a simulated biological attack on Lane County with the highly contagious and deadly pneumonic plague.

The exercise will test the community's ability to provide quarantine, set up field hospitals, rally doctors, decontaminate patients and deliver sufficient treatment until federal help arrives.

"You figure out who would call whom and at what time," Sacred Heart spokesman Brian Terrett said. "The idea is to identify where there might be some gaps."

A recent incident pointed out a couple of weaknesses in the system and provided an impromptu lesson on terrorism response.

A University of Oregon professor received a letter on Nov. 15 containing threatening language and some unidentified powder.

Eugene police and the FBI swung into action, but they failed to notify the county's health officer, who is in charge of alerting area doctors about what weaponized disease they should recognize.

"Those are the little things that come out of these exercises," Swenson said. "We look back on it now as a good exercise in trying out our systems."

Another unforeseen problem: Police were confident that they knew the two individuals who were exposed to the powder - then considered a "credible threat" of anthrax - so they didn't warn the hospitals that other people, who were nearby, might be worried.

A man turned up at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield, and the emergency department was unprepared and unsure of what treatments were necessary.

"(He) put the place on its head. What if we had 1,000 people who thought that they had been exposed to anthrax?" Swenson said.

The lesson, Swenson said, is to notify agencies even when the threat is only a perception on the part of the public, even when police know that the risks of danger are slim.

After such events and exercises, the terrorism preparedness team evaluates what worked well and what needs work, and members plan to incorporate any necessary changes into a biennial update of the city's entire 251-page emergency response plan, which is scheduled to be completed in February.

Future work

The team's first priority was producing the terrorism response plan, but members said there is more to do.

The community, for instance, should identify the 10 most likely terrorist targets - whether public or private - and decide what should be done to protect them, team members said.

The problem: The city doesn't own all of the targets or have the money to help other agencies or businesses analyze their risks.

Also, terrorist attacks always cross jurisdictional boundaries, team member and fire department planner Ruth Obadal said.

Because of this, the city should know how its emergency plan meshes with those of the other governments, "so we know what to expect from each other," she said.

Police and firefighters need better equipment, team members said. Police, for instance, could use respirators that would protect them from gases and germs. The fire department's technical rescue team - which helps people out of tall buildings - needs better gear. The city's hazardous materials team needs better testing devices to be fully prepared.

The city needs a full-time emergency coordinator to analyze new information and keep the city's plans up-to-date, team members said.

Of the six largest cities in Oregon, only Eugene is without a full-time coordinator.

Obadal is writing a job description for the position for the city's executives and budget committee to consider.

Similarly, Lane County officials hope to reassign two people - from the sheriff's and public works departments - to work on a county-level terrorism response plan for up to six months.

But hiring planners and buying expensive equipment needed in a terrorist attack presents a conundrum for governments.

"We need some equipment. How much do we get - understanding it may never be used - versus not having any of it when we need it? It's a crystal-ball question," Swenson said.

"You try to balance the possibility versus probability."

Completing Eugene's terrorism plan, in the meantime, is a big step in the right direction, Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey said.

"That's a great piece of work," he said. "This is over and above what you could have expected them to do in that period of time."

The plan will help city officials act in concert, Obadal said.

"It helps to have it organized and on paper. You can refer to it. You know that we're all looking at the same plan; we're seeing it the same way, so there is some consistency in how we're going to deal with even the potential of an incident."

Eugene residents can rest assured, Swenson said.

"There's a good basis for being confident.

"We're as well prepared as anywhere."


Chuck Solin visits the Eugene Incident Command Center at Willakenzie Fire Center.
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Title Annotation:Terrorism: Eugene officials map out preparations in the event of attacks that might happen in the city.; Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 6, 2001
Previous Article:Cook brings out the best in whatever's on hand.
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