States draft themselves to fight terrorism
North Dakota is best known for the Badlands, a dinosaur museum, and its International Peace Garden.
But terrorism? Probably not.
Recently, however, Gov. John Hoeven named a homeland security coordinator - a cabinet position - to determine how prepared the state is for a terrorism attack.
In the wake of Sept. 11, many states, in their biggest security effort ever, are rushing to set up task forces and planning groups to uncover any glaring weaknesses. They are trying to determine if they need new laws to prevent, for example, small planes from towing advertising banners over football stadiums. And many are setting up full-time cabinet-level security positions - a step similar to President Bush's decision to make former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge the US security czar.
"If a state hasn't done this, it should," says Raymond Kelly, former head of the US Customs Service.
In fact, the federal government is not opposed to the state efforts, since almost any response to a terrorist act is likely to involve state and local officials before the FBI gets involved. "The federal government is very responsive and helpful," says Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, which actually started its antiterrorism preparations three years ago.
Some of the new state security czars have extensive antiterrorism experience. For example, last week, New York Gov. George Pataki appointed James Kallstrom to head up a new cabinet-level post, the Office of Public Security. Mr. Kallstrom was formerly the assistant director of the FBI's New York division. He is best known for his investigation of the explosion aboard TWA's Flight 800.
Others have extensive military or state police experience. For example, Missouri Gov. Bob Holden has appointed retired Army Col. Timothy Daniel as special adviser for homeland security. In Virginia, Gov. Jim Gilmore has appointed a 21-member preparedness and security panel, chaired by M. Wayne Huggins, former superintendent of the state police.
For many of the new security directors, the first order of business is reviewing state readiness. For example, Kallstrom's responsibilities include ensuring that the state is prepared to respond to possible biological, chemical, or radiological terrorist acts. Since New York has already had one anthrax incident at NBC News and one hoax at The New York Times, he'll be able to evaluate the state's and city's responses right away.
North Dakota's antiterrorism director has already had to respond to one incident. Recently, someone broke into the water supply at Pembina, which is located on the border with Canada. "Our folks flew up there right away, shut off the water, got the National Guard in, analyzed the material, and cleaned up and got the system back on line," says Governor Hoeven. As it turned out, whatever was in the water supply was not toxic.
Hoeven also notes that the state has two Air Force bases where B-52s are loaded with nuclear bombs. "There have been incidents of people going over the security fences," he says. "They've been checked out, and they haven't been a problem so far."
Vermont is also trying to investigate suspicious events. Governor Dean says three men, apparently of Middle Eastern background, were observed taking photos at a dam on the Connecticut River. "That's still not explained," he says. In addition, Dean says a small plane buzzed a Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The governor has written the Federal Aviation Administration asking for a five-mile "no-fly zone" around nuclear power plants, and he wants the FAA to order all small planes to file flight plans.
Many states started beefing up security in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, says Christine LaPaille, spokeswoman for the National Governors' Association. Now, she says, they're going further and trying to find out how much power they have to suspend activities or evacuate facilities. "Some governors have found they could only shut down a basketball game," she says. "There is an extensive review going on right now."
One of those states that expect to look at their process is Florida, which has created two special committees to develop legislation to address the state's security and antiterrorism activities. "It's likely some legislation will be enacted either at a special session, which begins next week, or starting Jan. 22, when the regular session begins," says Rep. Dudley Goodlette, chair of the Florida House Select Committee on Security.
Mr. Goodlette says the state will be looking at public-health issues, such as bioterrorism. Florida is still trying to cope with an anthrax case at American Media in Boca Raton. "We want to make sure we're all sharing information, and will identify what kind of additional legislation, rules, and regulations need to be in place so safety and security are dealt with adequately."
Whatever legislation Florida adopts, Goodlette estimates it will cost the state additional money - about $20 million to $40 million more. A good portion of this will go to beef up the public-health community's ability to respond to emergencies.
Last week in New York, Roy Goodman, a state senator from Manhattan, created an expert committee to help the state assess its preparedness. The members include former FBI agents, five former police commissioners, and a Nobel-laureate scientist. "We're trying to jump-start our reaction," says Mr. Goodman.
One of the participants is former New York Police Department chief Howard Safir, who believes one of the most important issues is federalizing airport security. At Goodman's press conference announcing the expert committee, Mr. Safir recounted how he had just flown from Fort Lauderdale.
After he boarded his Delta flight, he looked into his briefcase and discovered he had forgotten that he was carrying a "very sharp" 3-1/2-inch pocket knife. "I got through the X-ray machine and the magnetometer, and no one picked up on it," says Safir, now a private security consultant.
A Delta spokesman said he would look into the event. "That knife is on the proscribed list," he said. The Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport says it would be Delta's responsibility to man the security checkpoints.