Attack prompts even small towns to review security procedures

Lives of people everywhere have been changed by the events of Sept. 11 in ways still unfolding.

The simple act of filling a glass of water from the spigot takes on new significance in light of recent concerns about potential tampering with water supplies in communities around the country.

Steve Garrett, Hillsboro city administrator, said he was recently attending a League of Kansas Municipalities meeting when the subject arose about tampering with water supplies.

Garrett said the following question was asked: Had anybody done anything different since the 11th?

“The answer is ‘yes,’ we’re doing some things different,” Garrett said.

Only days after the attack on America, the American Water Works Association-an international nonprofit organization designed to improve drinking water quality and supply-sent information to communities, including Hillsboro, suggesting tighter safety measures.

Garrett said the city has “already taken measures” and changes have been made.

“But for security purposes, we can’t release that information.”

Garrett said he hasn’t been approached locally by anyone concerned about the potential threats to the water system.

One week before the terrorists’ attack, the city updated it’s disaster plan, including the emergency water plan, Garrett said.

“If we detected some sort of poisoning of the water, we’d just have to cease production and then have water hauled in or we would tap one of the rural water districts for potable water.”

Testing is done daily at the water-treatment plant and this is something that has always been in place, Garrett said.

“I doubt that we’re real high on a list for a site for terrorism, but you never know,” he said. “We’re living in a time that I don’t think we’re familiar with how things are going to be, and it’s happening rather rapidly.

“I sure don’t want people concerned-that’s more my job,” Garrett said. “I have the health and welfare of everybody in Hillsboro and Peabody, as well, to think about.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t expect us to have any problems,” he said.

Dennis Nichols, Marion city administrator, said there “isn’t anything that’s been done any differently” since Sept. 11.

Nichols referred to the following excerpt from an article in the Oct. 8 issue of Time magazine: “Would-be terrorists would find it extremely hard to inflict wide-spread casualties through our water supply.

“Chlorine in treated water kills most microbes, and huge quantities of chemical toxins would have to be dumped into a reservoir to make many people sick, let alone kill them. Drinking water might be threatened locally, however, if someone managed to tap the pipe going into a building or neighborhood or infiltrate a water-treatment facility.”

Nichols said: “But again, the water that is stored there already has chlorine in it. And so anything they do, chlorine would break it down to where it would not be an issue.”

A Marion city employee was recently approached by someone in that community asking if security was set up 24-hours-a-day at the plant, Nichols said.

“The plant is locked and secured and any water we store there, we do store in the clear well and there’s chlorine in it,” Nichols said.

“But I feel very confident that if there were concerns, we’d be getting contacted from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“We have not received any special instructions and after I read the Time article I began to understand why.”

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