County receives homeland security grant

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

A federal homeland security grant totaling $29,550 has been awarded to the county, Presiding Saline County Commissioner Becky Plattner announced Friday.

The money, which will be spent on items ranging from computer equipment to counterterrorism response training, will assist the county in the case of a terrorist attack or, more likely, hazardous material spills. The two require very similar equipment and responses, said David Ritoch, emergency management director for the Saline County community of Sweet Springs. He, along with Timothy Miille of Blackburn and others put together the grant proposal, which came to his attention days before its April due date.

When asked whether he felt Saline County could be a potential terrorism target, Ritoch said "Three years ago I would have said 'no.' But not anymore."

Miille gave an example scenario of a terrorist attack involving a contagious disease, which could be dropped in a rural location near a large city.

"We always assume terrorists are from other countries, but you have local groups, too," Ritoch added.

Whether or not there is a terrorist threat in the county, large amounts of hazardous chemicals are hauled through the area along major highways on a regular basis, including daily loads of radioactive materials, Ritoch said. The equipment and training gained through the grant could help mitigate accidents and keep them from becoming disasters.

The majority of the grant money will go toward equipment. These items could include generators, detection equipment, protective gear and handbooks on subjects from explosives identification to biological weapons.

The equipment and training will mostly be used in the southern and western areas of the county, Ritoch said. Ritoch also advised that the county needs efforts to be more synchronized between cities in the event of a disaster.

"The county really needs a full-time emergency management director. Right now the only way this is even coordinated is we're all talking to one another," he said.

Contact Matt Heger at

marshallfaith@socket.net

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