Coping with anthrax terror

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 19, 2001



"Anytime you have something that gets media attention it increases the risk of 'copycat' events."

—Terry Wesbrock


Is the average citizen

going to get a spore-laden letter?

Not likely, said Terry Wesbrock, a security specialist

with Church World Service (CWS). But it doesn't hurt to

stay alert for potential terrorist activities, he added,

and for 'home-grown' terrorists and 'copycats' who might

spring up in the midst of current media attention on

anthrax.

"Anytime you have something that gets media attention it

increases the risk of 'copycat' events," he said. Recent

anthrax hoaxes are an example, he said.

"People may try to pull a hoax or pull some other kind

of 'homegrown' terrorism because of the anonymity they

think they can have with all media attention directed at

the anthrax scares in the cities," he said.

But the people responsible for the hoaxes aren't

remaining anonymous -- they're being arrested, Wesbrock

added.

Even if the chances of an "average citizen" contracting

anthrax are slim, many of those average citizens are

scared, said Wesbrock -- and that's just what the

terrorists want. "The whole idea is to instill terror

and fear."

Two Senate office buildings remained closed Friday for

anthrax testing. Hundreds of congressional staff were

tested for the disease. Officials have reported that, so

far, there are no test results to suggest the anthrax

has been "weaponized," meaning altered to make it spread

more easily in the air. There were seven confirmed

anthrax infections in the U.S. as of Friday.

Bush administration officials reported they still had no

evidence of a connection between the anthrax attacks and

the Sept. 11 hijackings.

As a security specialist, Wesbrock has been working with

his contacts in the military, and with relief and

response organizations worldwide. Daily he scans news

articles from the U.S., Africa, Asia, and the rest of

the world about response to terrorism and preparation

for potential future threats.

The recent anthrax attacks have sparked fears of more

bio-terrorism, including attacks involving smallpox.

Wesbrock said these types of attacks are possible but

unlikely. "Smallpox has all but been eradicated," he

said. adding that the U.S. and Russia are in possession

of most of the known sources of the disease.

Still the possibility is there, Wesbrock said. "Two

years ago there was a report that Russians working at a

huge chemical/biological warfare plant hadn't been paid

for six months. Was there an opportunity then for those

people to sell potential biological weapons? Yes. Do we

know if that actually happened? No."

What's an average citizen to do? Wesbrock, who developed

security training for CWS that is now given to

organizations worldwide, including the United Nations,

said the number-one piece of advice he offers is to stay

alert.

"Be very, very alert of what's going on around you. As

you drive around or go around, be alert."

Wesbrock explained that all kinds of crime, including

terrorism, have three elements: a person who desires to

commit the crime, the tools to commit the crime, and the

opportunity to commit the crime. "The first two we don't

necessarily have control over. But we can have control

over giving people the opportunity to commit crimes.

"If you work in a news media outlet, don't just rip open

any letter that comes in," added Wesbrock.

If you get a piece of mail that looks suspicious or

spills a powdery substance, "put it down, walk away, get

everybody out of the room, close off the room, wash your

hands, take off your clothes and tie them into a plastic

bags, and take a shower."

Calling the FBI rather than the local police may speed

response, he added, since "local police likely won't

have the equipment to handle an anthrax threat properly

unless you're in a big city like Washington, DC."

Wesbrock -- like President Bush, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani,

and many other national leaders -- encouraged people to

try to live their normal lives. "You have to go on with

your normal life. You can't stay home in live in fear.

If you bottle yourself up in your house, the terrorists

have won."

In Washington, DC, New York, and Florida, the anthrax

scares have caused some events and meetings to be

canceled or moved elsewhere. The threat of anthrax also

halted "Operation Dear Abby," an effort that encouraged

readers of the newspaper column to send holiday

greetings to the military.

Even while trying to resume normal lives, people need to

accept the fact that their lifestyle has permanently

changed as a result of the terrorist attacks. "This is

not going to be a war that lasts a month or two and then

stops," said Wesbrock.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, "people traveling overseas

were already used to men with machine guns standing

there when they got off the airplane. But here in

America we weren't used to that. We're going to have to

get used to that."


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