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County terrorism danger is much lower than other areas

POULSBO — The county scored one out of five possible points, Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management Director Phyllis Mann told members of the Poulsbo City Council Wednesday night.

And while in most cases low scores are a bad sign, Mann said when one is counting the possibility of terrorism here — it couldn’t be better.

Nearly one month after three terrorist-guided planes crashed on the East Coast, killing thousands of Americans and sparking a war with Afghanistan, the news of “minimal threat” was welcome.

“We have been planning for a terrorist attack in Kitsap County since 1999,” Mann explained, noting the first bombing of the World Trade Center that year sparked anti-terrorism efforts throughout the nation.

Soon after the attack, a 40-person committee was developed on the local level, bringing together fire, police, emergency management and military personnel for a common goal: protecting Kitsap County.

With four military bases in this region, many people think the risk of terrorism would be much greater than in other areas, Mann said before dispelling such assumptions.

“Terrorists go for civilians. They go for numbers and historic sites,” she remarked, adding that Kitsap basically has none of the above.

Mann also said ideas that a terrorist could simply steal weapons from one of the local bases and use it against the civilian population were equally absurd.

“(They’d) have to go onto a military base and steal it — good luck,” she said, explaining that security here was intense even before the Sept. 11 attack on America. “We originally found out (through a detailed study) that on a scale of one to five we’d be a minus one.”

This assessment was later upgraded to a .5 following an enhanced evaluation from the federal government.

However, Mann said, Kitsap County was bumped to a “one” because the computer program couldn’t comprehend the low score.

Incidents of school violence are more likely than a terrorist attack, she said. To this end, the KCDEM is working on a program to deter this as well. A pilot program on handling such school-born incidents will take off next May in Bremerton.

As for terrorism, Mann confirmed, “I’m still considered the ‘Queen of Emergency Management.’ You don’t need to get a gas mask. I don’t have a gas mask.”

Much like planning for an earthquake, or any other natural disaster, the Director of Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management said food, water and medicine were still the most important items for families to have on hand.

While law enforcement is currently the weakest link in the county’s ongoing preparation for a terrorist incident, lacking hazardous waste protection and anti-terrorist training, the KCDEM is working to strengthen their hand on both levels. This education will take place over the next few years but, according to Poulsbo Police Chief Jeff Doran, the partnership being developed between local emergency response agencies is a step in the right direction.

“It’s important to understand that we’re all one cog in the same machine,” Fire District 18 Chief Jim Shields said. “The best way to be prepared is to be prepared in the home.”

In terms of water supply, Public Works Supt. Bill Duffy pointed out that city staff check local systems on a daily basis, protecting the potable water from any tampering. The sources are also monitored and have protective alarms, he added.

One area the county is not prepared in is telecommunications, Mann said, noting that the system would never be able to handle the high volume of calls generated during an emergency.

“How many of your cellular phones worked on Feb. 28?” she asked the crowd, noting that the system was overburdened by the surge of phone calls in the wake of Washington’s biggest earthquake in recent history.

Although she said a proposed 911 Center, which will go before voters this Nov. 6 would help the phone problem to some degree, Mann said the overall system would still not be up to par.

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