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Preparations made to fight terrorism

County employees learn to open letters that may hold anthrax, a fireman offers to talk about terrorism, and Gov. Kitzhaber establishes an anti-terrorism task force

   The latest terrorist scare, anthrax in the mail, is the top news story in most of the nation this week. Seemingly, every television news cast recounts over and over which Congressman or news department has received one. But how real is the fear and what should a person look out for?
   Crook County Judge Scott Cooper invited the county Environmental Health Director, Russ Hansen to talk on the issue at this week's staff meeting. All county employees that typically handle mail were present and learned safe ways to handle suspicious envelopes.
   After learning that anthrax spores are actually heavy and won)t float in the air, that being the reason for being mixed with a lighter powder, the staff members were shown how to open a letter safely. Using a zip-lock bag, Hansen placed the envelope inside, squeezed the air out and sealed it. It is simple then, he explained, to tear one corner of the envelope and if not powder pours out, it's okay.
   If powder does pour out, the unopened bag should be taken to the sheriff's office.
   Along with this information, the employees were also given plastic gloves and, if they wanted, a mask to wear while opening mail.
   Another sign of concern at the courthouse is an increase in the random security at the entrance. Using the metal detector more often than was originally planned is an additional sign of readiness.
   At the city level, the new fear of terrorism has brought a member of the city's fire department into the forefront.
   Capt. John Hite of the Prineville Fire Department said he has been ready for terrorism attacks since long before the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
   Hite took part in a series of terrorism awareness classes held at the National Fire Academy last February.
   "We studied a number of scenarios," Hite said, "that are going on today."
   Hite is willing to share what he learned with any local group of concerned citizens such Rotary, Kiwanis, the Senior Center or, he added, "any group of local business people who want to get together."
   One thing Hite said he learned during the classes is what to do in case of a letter that arrives that the recipient believes might contain anthrax. Iron it, he said.
   "Place a damp cloth over the letter and, using a hot iron, iron it. The damp heat," he explained, "will kill any spores that might be in the envelope."
   To arrange for Hite to address a group, he can be contacted at the fire hall during the week, 447-5011.
   At the state level, in Salem this week, Governor John Kitzhaber talked about both existing security and preparedness procedures at the State, and new proposals to upgrade the State's ability to gather information and respond to emergencies.
   "I am confident that our State Police, National Guard and public health agencies have the capabilities to deal with crises," Kitzhaber said. "But we are in a new world as of Sept. 11, and it is time to put some additional resources and effort into security at the state level."
   Specifically, Kitzhaber unveiled a new Oregon State Police (OSP) initiative called the Office of Public Safety and Security. The unit, established using existing positions within OSP, will be responsible for coordinating with the Oregon Attorney General's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the collection and analysis of intelligence information.
   Secondly, OSP will be expanding the operations of its communications infrastructure and establishing an Operational Command Center that will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
   "These measures will help us both prevent possible acts of terror, domestic or otherwise, and will enable us to respond more quickly and appropriately to threats or incidents as they occur," Kitzhaber said.
   In addition to actions by OSP, the governor announced that he would be lobbying the Department of Defense to provide the Oregon National Guard with a Civil Support Team. The Team would be specifically designed to respond to chemical and biological incidents. The closest existing team is in Renton, Washington.
   Kitzhaber also reviewed actions taken by the State since September 11 which include:
   * Establishment of an Oregon Anti-terrorism Task Force.
   * Review of the Oregon Emergency Response System to help expedite communication among and between public safety agencies at the Federal, State, County and Municipal levels.
   * Identification of critical assets such as dams, water supplies and power facilities, and review of their security status.
   Finally, Kitzhaber noted that he is confident in the State's ability to respond to acts of bioterrorism. "The United States has the greatest medical system in the world and Oregon doctors are top-notch," Kitzhaber said. "We will review all our public health procedures in light of the current Anthrax threat. But, both as governor and as a physician, I am very confident in our system of public health."
   "I have worked daily with the men and women of the Oregon State Police, Oregon National Guard, Oregon Health Division and other State and local officials," Kitzhaber added, "for the last seven years as governor. They are dedicated, well informed, well trained and well equipped. Should the need arise, I am confident they are ready."