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Last Updated

25 Mar 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2003


Obstacles Confront Anti-terror Efforts

Reluctance to Get Smallpox Vaccinations, Protests Are Seen Mostly as Hindrances


Across the globe, law-enforcement and health officials are gearing up their terrorism-alert efforts again but are facing complicating factors including antiwar protests and intensified reporting of infectious diseases.

The U.S.-led war in Iraq has spurred officials world-wide to warn of an increased likelihood of terrorist attacks, particularly against targets related to the U.S. and its coalition partners.

In the U.S., one obstacle to preparations for a bioterror attack is the reluctance of many health-care workers to get smallpox vaccinations, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Complicating homeland-security efforts in San Francisco have been persistent antiwar protests. More than 2,000 demonstrators have been arrested on civil-disobedience charges since massive street protests broke out Thursday in San Francisco. Local police estimate it will cost their department an extra $500,000 a day to watch over them. That makes it harder for them to spend money on antiterror activities. The protests appeared to be simmering down as of Monday.

Many state emergency officials began beefing up security following a March 17 conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. In Minnesota, state officials brought in the National Guard to protect two nuclear-power plants, two oil refineries and a water-treatment facility. Iowa asked the National Guard and Coast Guard to help local law enforcement patrol two bridges that cross the Mississippi River. South Dakota stepped up security at significant buildings and public gatherings, while Indiana increased patrols at the state house as well as downtown Indianapolis.

Richmond, Calif., Police Chief Joe Samuels, who is president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said his own department has been doing an increased number of vulnerability assessments at sites around the community that are considered sensitive. He wouldn't talk specifically about sites but said the kinds of things would range from power plants to "schools, mosques and synagogues."

Chief Samuels, who as IACP president represents 18,000 police chiefs and senior department officials around the U.S. and the world, said other departments also have done security assessments of sensitive areas and are increasing the number of officers they have available by changing their shifts to 12 hours from 10, creating an overlap.

He and a number of other chiefs are in the application process to receive grants from the Department of Homeland Security but until those grants, which will come from $1.3 billion in funding for first responders, start going out, he said, "we're sucking it up within our own budgets."

In New York state, nearly 700 additional state National Guard troops and state police troopers were deployed to patrol and secure commuter trains in the region. Connecticut and New Jersey troopers were authorized to make arrests and patrol commuter trains entering New York from those states, and Monday, an additional 120 state troopers were authorized to patrol New York's northern border.

Similar efforts were made across Europe. In France, armed guards were posted at such national landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and travel hubs such as train stations. In Germany, police were stationed outside buildings or installations housing American, British, Israeli or Spanish officials. German health officials trained doctors around the country in administering smallpox vaccinations.

Earlier this month, Frankfurt officials were able to test their bioterror contingency plan on a small but frighteningly real scenario: the landing of a plane full of passengers who might have been infected by a Singapore doctor ill with the mystery pneumonia-like virus that has spread from Asia to other parts of the world. "The chain of command was followed exactly," said Ricarda Wessinghage, a spokeswoman for the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University hospital, whose doctors were dispatched by city officials to the airport to examine the patients and treat and isolate the sick passenger, his wife and his mother-in-law.

London's Metropolitan Police launched a five-week campaign to encourage people to call a confidential hotline if they had any information about possible terrorist activities. The police agency said that Monday it increased its presence in central London by between 800 and 1,500 officers.

Last week, Britain's Home Office updated its advice to householders on how to protect themselves in the event of a terrorist attack, suggesting that they keep canned food, bottled water and a battery-powered flashlight at home. Supermarkets reported a surge in sales of those items over the last week or so.

-- Gary Fields in Washington and Shirley Leung in Chicago contributed to this article.