Terrorism not biggest Y2K worry
Is Aspen prepared for the possibility of a Y2K-related terrorist attack?
Well, yes and no, according to local law enforcement authorities. While local officials are aware of the potential for such an attack, they are not actively planning out ways to deal with it.
“There is no specific intelligence from the feds” that indicates Aspen is targeted for an attack over the New Year’s weekend, said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.
With the recent arrests of accused terrorists allegedly planning attacks on such towns as Seattle, Wash. and Elk Grove, Calif., national news media outlets have wondered in print about the safety of cities and towns throughout the United States over what is being called the “millennium weekend.”
The fear, according to published reports, is of both “home-grown” terrorism, presumably conducted by U.S. citizens aiming to overthrow the government, and international terrorist organizations whose goal is to use terror on U.S. soil to achieve political ends elsewhere in the world.
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Federal intelligence agencies have been preparing for the possibility of trouble for a year, as has the U.S. National Guard, according to published reports.
“We’re a resort area,” noted Aspen City Council member Tom McCabe at a meeting this week, “so we’re not immune.” McCabe was asking City Manager Steve Barwick whether local law enforcement was ready for such an attack.
“The reality is, if the Islamic Jihad or any radical group wants to create terror, there is very little any government can do about it without a total suspension of rights,” Braudis said.
He that there have been scares in recent history that have led to violations of civil liberties, such as the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and the red-baiting campaigns of the McCarthy era in the 1950s.
According to Braudis, local law enforcement agencies have “mutual aid agreements” with a variety of state, regional and federal emergency management organizations and agencies. And should any act of terrorism take place here, those agreements would be activated in response to any incident.
As for the home-town team, Braudis said, “We can handle a hostage situation fairly adequately,” noting that some local officers have had training and experience in dealing with such matters.
“We recognize that we’re not removed from it all,” remarked Sheriff’s Investigator Joe DiSalvo, who is one of those in charge of the county’s Y2K planning. “We do get alerts. We take them seriously.”
In general, though, according to DiSalvo, the sheriff’s department and other law enforcement agencies are working on contingency plans for “mass disasters,” though not specifically related to the possibility of Y2K-related terrorism.
He said no anti-terrorist squad is being formed for the weekend, and undercover cops won’t be following potentially suspicious characters as they leave the Pitkin County Airport.
Instead, planners are focusing on public health and safety issues related to the possibility of a failure of computer-dependent systems and equipment.
“This is something we should have done years ago,” DiSalvo added, noting that Aspen could experience any number of other kinds of disasters, whether natural or caused by human activities, that might cause an interruption of a variety of critical services and systems.
“We have a general mass disaster plan,” he said.
So, DiSalvo said, the sheriff’s office and the police department right now are planning to deal with the more mundane possibilities related to the weekend, such as whether or not the lights will stay on.
“Right now our biggest concern is, believe it or not, how to handle this huge celebration that’s going to take place,” he said, referring to the Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve parties planned for the area.
All law enforcement and emergency services officers in the upper valley will be on duty that night, just in case the regional power grid goes down, or computer-dependent critical systems suddenly fail, or some other problems arise that might threaten public safety.
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