Dealing with the threat of domestic terrorism needs to be a top government priority.
As was shown by a recent exercise, America is not nearly as ready as it needs to be to face threats posed by biological and chemical attacks.At the behest of President Clinton, a scenario was recently set up to simulate a deadly epidemic spread by terrorists who release a pathogen near the Mexican border. According to the New York Times, experts who played the roles of state and federal officials responding to such an attack were quickly overwhelmed by a panicked population, thousands of whom were dying of a genetically altered virus that was something like smallpox.
That vulnerability was earlier underscored by tests carried out at Dugway Proving Ground in December 1997. Moon-suited technicians sprayed a simulant aerosol, biological OV albumin, to test whether new detection devices would work. The results were disappointing.
Much more testing needs to be done and Clinton, according to the Times, is prepared to issue presidential directives to enhance the country's defenses against biological, computer and chemical attacks.
That being the case, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's proposal to build a "mock city" in Utah where the military and police can train to handle terrorist attacks of germ and chemical arms makes a lot of sense.
Hatch envisions using the Dugway Proving Ground as a possible all-inclusive training site. It would include a working subway, office buildings and homes (obviously with no residents) where officials nationwide could be brought to train to handle chemical and biological attacks by terrorists.
It seems like a natural fit as Dugway is the nation's most advanced chemical and biological test and evaluation center. "It's the only place in the United States where every function required in CBD (chemical-biological defense) and any future FBI training plan can be carried out on a single-site basis," Hatch said.
Providing personnel to thwart terrorist attacks is another area where Utah can play a part. Enlisting the Utah National Guard and other states' guard units to fight domestic terrorism is a natural. That possibility was raised recently by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. He said 10 special National Guard units would be readied to protect the public from such episodes.
With the storage of large amounts of nerve and blister agents locally, it seems logical this state would rank consideration for such status. Playing host to the 2002 Winter Games strengthens that argument.
Whatever Clinton and the Congress decide regarding location of training sites and anti-terrorism personnel, action needs to be taken. Domestic terrorism is a problem that may increase, and America must be prepared to thwart it.