Just In Case

Three years after Sept. 11, many Tucsonans remain unprepared for emergencies

Shortly after that terrible September day three years ago, the vast majority of Americans assumed more terrorist attacks were imminent.

According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, more than 80 percent of the people asked then said future attacks were possible. That number later dropped somewhat, even though the country has been continuously bombarded by changing threat alerts and the arrests of suspected terrorists who, in some cases, turned out to be guilty of nothing more than being foreign.

Since Sept. 11, local government officials in Tucson have been working diligently to prepare for a terrorist attack or other emergency--just in case. Numerous committees and organizations have been formed or reconstituted in order to prevent a threat from occurring, or to plan a response in the event that some threat does materialize.

But Kim Janes, a manager who works for the Pima County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, thinks more needs to be done, especially by individuals.

"Each of us should be prepared," Janes emphasizes. He recommends that households and businesses have communication plans and a support network pre-established in case of an emergency. He also suggests that everyone have a portable 72-hour supply kit ready that includes food, a battery-powered radio, blankets, required medicines, a flashlight and other essentials.

"Get to know how to survive when the comforts of life aren't available," Janes stresses. "Preparedness is the key to feeling more secure in our present environment."

Community wide, many changes have been made to better prepare for an emergency. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Pima County's Office of Emergency Management added "Homeland Security" to its title. At the same time, its federal anti-terrorism funding--which is distributed to various local agencies that actually respond to emergencies--rose from $.5 million to $3 million dollars. In large part, this money has been used to purchase law enforcement protection along with hazardous material-handling equipment.

In addition to those funds, the office has received $2 million during the past two years for bioterrorism programs. Channeled to health departments and the medical community, this money is intended to improve the response to potential biological threats.

Right after the 2001 attacks, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik also established a suspicious activity phone line; 547-TIPS (8477) allows residents to provide information to the police without contacting 911.

According to Janes, his agency has additionally coordinated the preparation of emergency response plans and training for jurisdictions throughout Pima County for everything from natural disasters to weapons of mass destruction.

"We've thought about them, and trained for them," he says of WMDs.

Among the agencies involved in preparing for an attack are the Pima Domestic Preparedness Council and the Intelligence Threat Assessment Group. The first, comprised of representatives of police and fire departments along with hospitals and Indian nations, meets quarterly to share information about possible threats. The other includes the FBI, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies, and gets together monthly to do much the same thing.

Another organization involved in preparing for a terrorist action is the Arizona Disaster Medical Assistance Team. According to Janes, it is one of 41 "MASH-type units" in the country made up of medical professionals who can be deployed anywhere in the United States on an "as needed" basis.

Also involved are Community Emergency Response Teams, which are neighborhood or business-based efforts to educate the public. Participants are provided with 20 hours of training in subjects ranging from emergency preparedness to disaster psychology, with the goal of "people helping people."

Efforts have also been made to increase overall volunteer activity in case of a disaster. This includes educating ham radio operators about ways in which they can assist with backup communication in an emergency.

The result of all these efforts, Janes believes, is that the residents of Pima County are more prepared in the unlikely situation that a terrorist attack should occur here.

"We're better trained in situations that we never imagined three years ago," he says. "We have more equipment for hazardous material and terrorists events, and have a stronger communication system in place."

While local government and a few individuals may be more prepared for an emergency, a national survey taken last year by the University of Maryland showed Americans in general didn't feel safer. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents reported that they felt less safe in terms of the threat of another terrorist attack, while 24 percent said they felt safer. The remainder didn't think things had changed much since Sept. 11.

At the same time, the reminder of Sept. 11 affects many people, even in Tucson. According to Jeff Greenberg of the UA's psychology department, the memory of that day remains strong.

"It's clear that a reminder of Sept. 11 still has potent effects," Greenberg says. "It reminds people of death, and any reminder of death tends to gravitate people toward a good vs. evil world view. It certainly affects people quite a bit, and will for quite awhile."

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