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Emergency officials: Terrorism now part of everyday concern

They have always dealt with worst-case scenarios. They regularly work with danger and disaster and take other people's problems as their own.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, even their world changed. Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency officials found themselves with one more sensitive issue to consider: terrorism.

Lawrence County EMA Director Mike Boster said before Sept. 11, 2001, his employees and volunteers were usually concerned with floods and other weather disasters and the occasional industrial accident. September 11 changed that.

"After Sept. 11, terrorism became an everyday topic of conversation," Boster said. "Terrorism is now one of the most important issues facing emergency management. We think now about how to protect ourselves. There may be enemies we haven't even identified yet. Yes, this ranks highly among our concerns. It's new territory for local officials."

The subject of terrorism wasn't entirely a foreign one. In the early 1990s state EMA officials began dialogue with local entities about terrorism.

In 2000, state officials sponsored a statewide conference in Columbus to pass along information. Still, Boster said even the most comprehensive class could not have prepared anyone for the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Who would've known then the acts of Sept. 11 would've occurred and the U.S. would face terrorism in a real way?" Boster said. "On some level, I think there was the thought that it couldn't happen here. Now, on a higher level, I think terrorism has been taken to heart. It's something new for local government to think about. It's something new for responders to think about. The issue of terrorism preparedness is an evolving thing."

In the wake of last year's tragedies, state officials began asking each county office to begin looking at issues unique to their area, such as certain sites that may be vulnerable to attack, infrastructure and issues with certain populations.

Each area was to develop a response plan based on their own needs.

"There are issues many areas of the state have in common and a lot of differences," Boster pointed out.

Next month, state officials will meet with Lawrence County agencies and help them complete a cohesive response plan in the event of a large-scale emergency.

The Ohio State Capability Assessment for Readiness (OSCAR) will bring together all public and private agencies and address what part each one would play if Lawrence County were to have an emergency. Government agencies, hospitals, cultural organizations, funeral directors, utilities and even media organizations have been invited to participate. The OSCAR exercise is tentatively slated for Oct. 23- 24.

"We live in a world where we hope the worst doesn't happen," Boster said. "But we have to be prepared nonetheless."

Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune