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America at War

Local officials work to secure homefront

The start of the United States military campaign against global terrorism has led many Hood River leaders to take a watchdog role on the homefront.

American and British forces have been bombing military installations and suspected terrorist camps in the south Asian nation of Afghanistan since Oct. 7 the first major military response to the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks in the East Coast.

Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge announced that his new federal agency will prepare to prevent as well as respond to terrorist attacks on American soil.

Hood River County health department and law enforcement officials believe it is unlikely that the rural county will be targeted either by bioterroism or retaliatory strikes. However, they are being extra vigilant about any unusual occurrences.

"We are working closely with the hospital and area medical clinics to make sure that all flu-like cases are reported to our office," said Ellen Larsen, health department director. "Basically that's what public health already does but it is incredibly important now that we are extra cautious."

She said what may appear to be only a small handful of isolated flu cases at an isolated clinic could send up "red flags" for a potential disease alert when tallied cumulatively at the central office.

To combat the potential outbreak of bacteria and viruses, the state health division has invested a $1 million federal grant during the past two years to upgrade communication systems and beef up labs for monitoring and testing. Citizens are advised to ready for any possible problems by keeping a 72-hour supply of non-perishable food, water and personal hygiene items on hand, along with a flashlight and battery-operated radio.

Larsen said more information about bioterrorism preparedness and response planning is posted on the following Internet sites:

* Oregon Health Division:

www.ohd.hr.state.or.us/acd/bioterr/home.html, or American

* Red Cross: www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/unexpected.html

Hood River City Police Chief Tony Dirks said last week the department was alerted by the FBI that a vague threat had been made by an unspecified source that plans were underway to blow up a bridge somewhere along a major riverway in America.

He said although those details were sketchy, both county and city officers have stepped up patrols along the waterway and around the Ken Jernstedt Airfield.

Dirks said because of heightened security, police are also strictly enforcing the Oregon law that prohibits vehicles from having heavily tinted windows.

"This is a safety issue for our officers, someone could be pointing a gun at them and they'd never know it until the bullet hit them," said Dirks.

He said officers have been alerting local auto body shops that windshield glass panels in passenger areas must legally allow 35 percent or more light penetration. Drivers violating that standard are subject to a $185 fine.

Dave Harlan, director for the Port of Hood River, said the agency is following Federal Aviation Administration standards for security at the Jernstedt airport.

He said if that federal body rules that additional fencing, lighting or other precautions are necessary safety measures then the port will be able to receive grant funding for their installation.

"We've told all of our employees to keep their eyes open for unattended vehicles or people with suspicious behavior," said Harlan.

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