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The News Journal June 23, 2005

Del. has several targets of terrorism

By Mike Chalmers

When Mark J. Miller jogs from his New Castle home to Battery Park, he sometimes stands on the banks of the Delaware River and sees targets.

Upriver, the twin spans of the Delaware Memorial Bridge carry more than 80,000 vehicles a day between Delaware and New Jersey. In the other direction, Miller sees the Premcor oil refinery and OxyChem's chlorine plant near Delaware City. Steam rises from the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants across the water, and tankers carrying oil, chemicals and containers from around the world ply the river daily.

"We're very tiny, but we're very important in terms of the whole economy," Miller said. "You can see how it would be an inviting area for al-Qaida or another like-minded group."

Miller spends more time than most people speculating about the threats posed by terrorists. As a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, he studies and teaches courses in global terrorism.

But since the Sept. 11 attacks, he has had a lot more company. Governments, law enforcement agencies, firefighters and medical providers across the nation are on a constant treadmill to stay ahead of the threats. They dream up disaster scenarios, plan their response, test that plan, use what they learned to improve the plan, then test it again.

One of those drills begins today in Delaware. The state Division of Public Health's Preparedness Section, created in response to the 2001 attacks, is conducting a three-day exercise to see how well the state's hospitals and medical workers respond to a large-scale bioterrorism attack.

"Because our plans are becoming so much more detailed, we have to make sure we can all work together and make sure our plans really work," said Benjamin Brown, who is running the drill, known as Operation Diamond Shield II.

"The only way to do that is to test and plan," he said. "That's going to be a constant from now on."

Coping with numerous casualties

Brown, a retired Air Force medical technician and educator, is one of only a dozen people who know what will happen during the drill.

He will say only that the drill will focus on identification of an outbreak, tracking its source, communications among all the entities and the hospitals' ability to handle a surge in patients. On Friday, hospitals will set up an Acute Care Center, a temporary facility where sick and injured people can go instead of an emergency room.

That ability to cope with a large number of casualties is crucial to the state's emergency response plan, Brown said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, hospitals could have provided 40 extra beds, if they were needed, he said. During Hurricane Isabel two years later, that capacity had grown to 100 beds. Today, hospitals could provide about 500 extra beds in a pinch.

Medical services is one of 17 "emergency support functions" in the Delaware Emergency Operations Plan. Others include transportation, food, energy, military support and communications. Every state's plan is designed to fit into the National Response Plan.

"Every community and state has targets," said Jamie Turner, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, the lead government agency in a large-scale disaster.

Turner and other state officials won't discuss the long list of potential targets they've identified in Delaware, and they won't release details of their response plan. Turner did say the list includes industrial sites, water-treatment plants, schools, shopping centers and other high-population places.

The federal response plan outlines 15 broad scenarios, designed to give officials a framework for plotting out a response, said John Pike, an intelligence analyst and director of GlobalSecurity.org, a private research group. One scenario involves a cyber attack on credit-card processing facilities.

"The big challenge post-Sept. 11 is figuring out what to plan for," Pike said. "It was a way to bound the universe of things you could worry about."

Dangers from chlorine

Scenario 8 examines the results of a terrorist attack on a tank full of chlorine in a densely populated city. Planners estimated the gas would kill 17,500 people, displace 70,000 and overwhelm local hospitals.

Delaware has 173 industrial sites that use chlorine or chlorine-based products, according to the Chlorine Chemistry Council, a trade group.

One of the largest is DuPont Co.'s Edge Moor plant near Claymont, which uses chlorine to make titanium dioxide, a white pigment used in paper, paint and some food products, said plant manager Bland Dickey. He declined to discuss specific security measures at the plant or say how much chlorine the plant uses or keeps on site.

An 11-member hazardous-materials response team is based at the Edge Moor plant, and the company practices emergency responses with the Brandywine Hundred Fire Company three times a year, he said.

A nuclear nightmare

The massive cooling tower and concrete domes at the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants are among the most secure potential targets in the region, said Skip Sindoni, spokesman for PSEG, which operates the plants.

"We had a robust security program before Sept. 11," he said.

Most details of that program are secret, Sindoni said. But he can point to a vehicle barrier system, a double fence around the site and the constant presence of New Jersey State Police and the National Guard. The nuclear reactors themselves and their radioactive material sit deep in the ground, covered by 3- to 6-foot-thick concrete designed to withstand the impact of an airplane crash, he said.

"That prevents anything from the outside getting in and, likewise, anything inside from getting out," Sindoni said.

Transportation corridor

Anyone who has counted out-of-state license plates during an I-95 traffic jam knows Delaware is a major thoroughfare for people and products.

Many of those products pass through the Port of Wilmington, which handles 400 ships a year. The port has tightened security since 2002, when Congress passed the Maritime Security Transportation Act, said security manager Bill Boles. The act required audits of the port's security plans, strict access controls and a variety of emergency response plans.

The entire Delaware River and Bay makes up the fourth largest port region in the nation, said Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange, a sort of chamber of commerce for the waterway.

Rochford said port authorities have beefed up security since the 2001 terrorist attacks. "Obviously there's still more to do, but things are better today than they were two or three years ago," he said.

Miller, the UD professor who specializes in global terrorism, said such "hardening" of transportation hubs, industrial sites and commercial areas has made the United States a more secure place. And drills such as the one beginning today are crucial to coping with the aftermath of a disaster, he said.

But Miller is a realist.

"No matter how much planning and precaution we take, there's not going to be a total exclusion of risk," he said. "That's the hard reality of life in the 21st century."


Copyright 2005, The News Journal