- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

RICHMOND It could be 20 years before all Virginia cities and counties are prepared to respond to a terrorist attack, the state's top emergency official said.
Only major metropolitan areas have full-time emergency planners, and most local governments lack equipment and staff training, Michael M. Cline said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Mr. Cline, state coordinator of emergency management, said he would like to see each locality develop a management plan within 10 years to respond to terrorism but acknowledged it could take twice that long.
An expected infusion of as much as $60 million from the federal government during the next few years should help. The money would be used for planning, training and equipment.
"I do hope the feds don't take too long," Mr. Cline said, noting with dismay that the state has yet to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for this year and doesn't know which federal agencies will administer the myriad anti-terrorism grants.
The state plans to use its own funds to plug gaps not covered by federal money, Mr. Cline said.
Planning to respond to terrorism is in its infancy in most localities, but the state has gained years of valuable experience in dealing with natural disasters. That experience can apply to terrorist attacks, even those involving dirty nuclear devices or biological weapons.
Virginia learned its lesson in 1969 when remnants of Hurricane Camille devastated Nelson County. Thirty-one inches of rain about 1.2 trillion gallons fell in six hours, turning placid streams into killers that washed away whole mountainsides and killed 153 persons.
The state's emergency response was "not too good," Mr. Cline said. The devastation prompted the creation in 1970 of the Department of Emergency Services, now the Department of Emergency Management, which Mr. Cline leads, and the enactment of laws to deal with disasters.
Experience from responding to nearly 30 emergencies hurricanes, floods, winter storms, tornadoes, even the Arab oil embargo in 1973 since then have put the state on the forefront in handling natural or man-made crises, Mr. Cline said.
Additionally, the state has been planning for nuclear-weapons attacks and terrorist attacks on nuclear-power plants for more than 20 years.
So, what would happen if an Oklahoma City-type conventional explosive laced with plutonium a dirty bomb was detonated on Ninth Street in Richmond next to Capitol Square?
The historic capitol about 120 yards from the street probably would escape serious damage, but buildings closer, such as the Virginia Supreme Court, would be heavily damaged, and people nearby would be killed or wounded, Mr. Cline said.
The bomb would spread radioactive particulate matter not the deadly gamma rays typically produced by a thermonuclear blast. People could be quickly decontaminated with water, he said.
"I think there is overreaction to it. It is something that is exaggerated because people don't know much about it," Mr. Cline said of a dirty bomb.
"The real impact of a dirty bomb is the emotional impact" because people feel helpless, he said. "It opens a whole new venue of fear."
The state has drawn up only one plan for massive evacuation for Hampton Roads, in case it is threatened by a powerful hurricane. The same plan can be used in the event of dirty-bomb and biological attacks, Mr. Cline said.
"You might need to leave an area for several weeks or until you had controls in place people decontaminated or people not spreading disease anymore," he said.
That raises the question of how to evacuate people from perpetually gridlocked Northern Virginia.
Mr. Cline mentioned the "shelter in place" response, in which people would turn off air-intake systems in their houses and remain inside. The idea is to "stay where you are until we stop this release" of chemicals or radioactivity, he said.
Others would leave the area and stay with friends or relatives or in motels, he said. Public shelters also would be opened.


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