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Archive for Monday, October 29, 2001

Police chief studies biological threats

October 29, 2001

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Somewhere in the world there are several hundred former Soviet scientists who know how to make the equipment needed to launch a bioterrorist attack.

Nobody knows where most of those scientists are, and that's what scares Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin.

What those scientists might be able to do with smallpox would far overshadow the current anthrax threat, Olin said.

"Anthrax is not in the high-order magnitude of the biological agents that could have been sent," he said.

For example, medical experts say a clandestine aerosol release of smallpox would infect 50 to 100 people and then rapidly spread by a factor of 10 to 20 times or more with each case.

"That kind of infectious rate is really scary," Olin said.

Olin has been studying the threat of terrorism for several years as a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He was appointed to that organization's terrorism committee by his colleagues. He is attending an IACP meeting in Toronto this weekend.

Olin also is a member of the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability. It is jointly chaired by representatives of the FBI and U.S. Defense Department.

Among its purposes is to work on standardizing equipment for responding to weapons of mass destruction and to work with local and state agencies in handling such a crisis.

And Olin also is one of the instructors of a Kansas University class called Violence and Aggression in the Modern World, which will be taught next semester. The class includes a look at terrorism.

Olin's experience and knowledge of terrorism is a benefit to Lawrence and its emergency services, City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

"You never know where a terrorist target will be, whether it will be Lawrence or not," Wildgen said. "Ron has developed an expertise that is not only helpful for us but he also is a good resource for surrounding cities who don't have someone like him."

Aircraft hijackings and bioterrorism are only two aspects of U.S. vulnerability. There are numerous potential targets, Olin said.

"I think it would be fair to say we've tried to determine a list of potential targets in this part of the country," he said. "We feel we're taking the steps that are possible to take."

For security reasons, he declined to discuss those steps.

While Lawrence itself may not be a target for terrorists, there are potential targets in the Kansas City metropolitan area, as well as military installations at Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley and Whiteman, Mo., Air Force Base, Olin noted.

"Lawrence is close enough to these places that we have to be vigilant," he said.

And Lawrence is the type of community that attracts people with varied backgrounds, Olin said. Kansas University has science programs of interest to large numbers of foreign students, Olin said.

"We offer educational programs with information that they can take back with them," he said. "Lawrence is a friendly city. People like to come here and stay. That doesn't make us a target, but it attracts a lot of people and gives us a high profile. We are on the map for different reasons."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., caught everyone by surprise, from the government down to the emergency response agencies, Olin said.

"There are many scenarios that have taken on a new possibility," Olin said. "I think people are seeing for the first time the vulnerabilities that are inherent in an open society like the U.S. The real issue will be to balance a response with our free and open society.

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