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Bioterrorism preparations accelerated

Preparations for bioterrorism have been in the works for several years, but after last month’s attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — and on the heels of this week’s bombing in Afghanistan — federal, state and local agencies have accelerated those plans.
“We’ve been working on this directly and indirectly since 1997,” said Greg Reas, director of the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency. “We thought an act of terrorism was possible … ”
But when two hijacked commercial planes crashed into the two 110-story towers of the WTC in New York City and another jet hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, the possibility became a jarring reality. Agencies accelerated their plans.
Reas said federal agencies broke cities and towns into three categories, based on population, to implement plans. The largest category is 250,000-plus residents; next is populations of 40,000 to 249,999, then the smallest category, populations up to 39,999.
“It was going to be a two-year project,” Reas said, “but it’s been accelerated to wrap up by year-end.”
Reas declined to comment about anything specific that’s being worked on, but he said each department will have input.
Harrison County sponsored a terrorism class about two years ago and has been conducting hazardous material classes the past several years.
In preparation for Y2K, when it was not known how computers would handle the change from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000, safeguards were put in place that would help in the event of other terrorist attacks.
Corydon Chief Marshal Richard Yetter said his department has started extra patrols of the town’s sewage treatment and water plants, and watching manholes.
fforts by the Indiana State Dept. of Health have stepped up since Dr. Gregory A. Wilson took over as state health commissioner in February.
The office has grants totaling more than $450,000 from the federal government for things like putting the state plan into place, reminding doctors and hospitals of symptoms of diseases like smallpox, enhancing the capability of the state laboratory to test for certain agents, and to improve communication among health agencies in emergencies.
A press release from the state health department said Hoosiers are “at no more risk of bioterrorism than any other place on the planet. In fact, Hoosiers are at a much higher risk from smoking, overeating and lack of exercise than from bioterrorism.”
Indiana Conservation Officer Mac Spainhour said the Dept. of Natural Resources has instructed its officers “to be aware that something else could come” rather than reacting quickly to the initial attack.