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Bio-terror not only worry

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 17, 2001

"Central Florida's food pantries are empty. The economic issues feel far more real, more disastrous (than anthrax scares)."

—Jody Hill

With the nation glued to news of the latest anthrax scares, other anxieties related to the terrorist incidents may be less visible. But they're no less real, according to disaster response leaders who

work with the public on a daily basis.

Jody Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster, said that economic worries are just as intense for some people in Florida as worries about anthrax.

"People seem to be holding up amazingly well (with

regard to anthrax), considering that anthrax has been

found in our backyard -- Palm Beach County."

Hill theorized that perhaps Florida residents are already

accustomed to continuous weather scares and that has

helped them cope.

But, she said, people aren't weathering the economic

impact as well. "The economic impact is up front here

and, for many, already very personal," Hill said, in

what she described as "the crushing impact on Florida's

tourist industry."

Some 88,000 employees have been laid off in central

Florida alone, she said, with many charitable

contributions going to New York City. "Central Florida's

food pantries are empty," she said. "The economic issues

feel far more real, more disastrous (than the anthrax


Anthrax isn't uppermost in the minds of residents in

rural North Carolina, either, said Barbara Tripp, who

works with the North Carolina Conference of the United

Methodist Church's disaster recovery ministries.

Tripp works with families still trying to rebuild their

homes destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

"Most of the people we work with do not travel in

circles where the reports of anthrax have appeared," she


Instead, these families are worried that volunteers

won't come to help them because people are unwilling to


"We have had lots of cancellations by volunteer teams

that are now afraid to travel away from home or afraid

to commit to a trip in the unknown future," said Tripp.

Military towns may be focused on their base personnel,

wondering if and how long their family members will be

away, said George Strunk with Lutheran Disaster

Response. "I live in a military town. Our anxiety is

wondering if our base military personnel will deploy and

how long they will be gone," he said.

And those who live near one 58 hydroelectric dams and

348 reservoirs operated by the U.S. Interior Department

are worried about security for the nation's water

supplies. A plan is underway in Congress that would

allow the Interior Department to contract with local law

enforcement officials to tighten such security.

The House Resources Committee expressed concern over the

lack of security at dam or water facilities in 17

Western states. Only the Hoover Dam, overseen by the

department's Bureau of Reclamation, is now protected by

its own force of armed guards.

Outside of Boulder, CO, the Gross Dam, built in 1954, contains some 627,559 cubic yards of concrete. The Gross Reservoir, which holds some 43,065 acre-feet of water, has a surface area of 440 acres and has 10.9 miles of shoreline.

The projected life for the Gross Dam is estimated at 1000

years, according to engineering reports. However, since its

completion, emergency officials have acknowledged four

major threats to its longevity: an earthquake along the

Golden fault, a huge flood seeping under the dam and

tipping it over, neglect of maintenance, and a terrorist


If the dam failed, Boulder would be literally wiped away

by the deluge of water. Denver Water, Boulder County

Emergency Management, the Boulder Sheriff's Emergency

Services, and the Eldorado Springs-Marshall Fire

Department have emergency plans and warning systems in

place in case the integrity of the dam is ever threatened.

But ever since Sept. 11 one of the four "unlikely

scenarios" that could threaten the dam suddenly appears less unlikely to some local officials and nearby residents.

So far, however, there haven't been any specific threats against water supplies, according to the American Water Works

Association (AWWA), a trade group with 57,000 members.

Much of the focus of tightened security related to water

facilities has been on potential chemical or biological

contamination of water supplies. But some experts say actually contaminating large amounts of water would be very difficult.

Because hazardous agents would be naturally diluted,

``the amount of chemicals required just to affect one

reservoir would be enormous,'' said AWWA spokesperson

Pam Krider.

But Professor Rae Zimmerman, director of the Institute

for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University,

said "there are certain agents that a fraction of any

quantity could have devastating effects, and you have to

protect against those.''

Already, the Environmental Protection Agency requires

water companies and municipalities to conduct tests for

a host of chemical or biological contaminants, including

E. coli and legionella, a bacteria that causes

Legionnaires' disease.

Executives at water companies said they have been in

touch with federal and local law enforcement

authorities. Emergency response programs and security

measures, many of which have been in place for years,

are now getting close review.

"We, like other water utilities, have been monitoring

both the sources and the water traveling through a

treatment plant," said Jim Harrison, a spokesperson for

American Water Works.

"You're running more tests than you used to, it's the

only way you can really do it," he said. "You're out

there spending a few extra bucks to monitor that you may

not have spent before."

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