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Cleveland Security

Thursday, September 20, 2001 at 2:24 PM

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America lost more than lives and buildings following last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The country also lost its sense of security. As individuals, many here in Cleveland are still dealing with fears about traveling by air or working in buildings that could be targets for terrorism. Others remain shaken by the mere fact of a direct attack on American soil. But as we move towards regaining our sense of safety, most of us recognize that some things may never be the same again. 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer reports.

Karen Schaefer- Last week while Americans watched in horror as terrorists rammed high-jacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Cleveland also had a scare. United Airlines Flight 93 left Dulles airport in Newark, New Jersey at 8:01 that Tuesday morning, bound for Los Angeles. An hour later it passed over Cleveland airspace. Within minutes, officials had ordered a full-scale evacuation of Cleveland Hopkins airport.

Shortly after ten o’clock that same plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania, killing all 45 people aboard. At the time, no one leaving Hopkins on foot knew about the high-jacked flight. But Cleveland Mayor Mike White revealed late last week that Flight 93 was the reason for the evacuation.

Mike White- The report, that came to me in the red room was that the tower just called, we have a report of a high-jacking, we can hear screaming in the background. The control tower could hear it. We believe that it left Cleveland, went over Toledo airspace and then on into Pennsylvania.

KS- And that was just the beginning. Mayor White says for the first time in his administration, he ordered an evacuation of all federal and city buildings downtown. He also called local business leaders and suggested some other downtown venues close as well. Over the next few days, city law enforcement and fire officials searched many downtown buildings for bombs that were never found. Although the threat of further attacks gradually diminished, it was clear that life in Cleveland would never be the same again.

MW- Attacks could have continued in cities other than New York and Washington… now has to turn over plans for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare to new mayor.

KS- In fact, for the last eight years, Cleveland - along with five other major Ohio cities - has been part of a federal program to help defend against domestic terrorism.

The Federal Domestic Preparedness Program helps cities plan for a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction. It also provides funding for equipment to handle those emergencies. Dick Kimmins is a spokesperson for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. Kimmins says there are literally hundreds of security issues in a city the size of Cleveland. They range from protecting water supplies, utilities, and transportation systems to preparing hospitals and emergency medical personnel to receive casualties.

But even something as innocuous as a baseball game could potentially be a target for terrorism. Both the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Browns have added new security measures since last week’s attacks. Indians’ spokesperson Bob DiBiasio says fans will see some changes.

There are also issues of regional security involving cities like Cleveland that are situated on Lake Erie. Ohio and other Great Lakes states share a border with Canada. Last week, authorities in Toronto held a man for questioning in connection with the terrorist attacks. He has since been taken into custody by the FBI. Both U.S. and Canadian authorities say they want to be sure the border is secure.

Another regional security issue is Northern Ohio’s two nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse near Toledo and the Perry plant just 25 miles east of Cleveland. Both utilities are owned by FirstEnergy and operated under the watchful eyes of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most nuclear power industry officials say their normally high level of security is enough to foil most terrorist attacks. But in 1993, following truck bomb attacks on foreign embassies, a truck drove through blockades at Three Mile Island, sparking new requirements for vehicle barriers. And even Nuclear Regulatory officials fear not all of the country’s 104 reactors could withstand a direct hit by a weapon like an airplane fully-loaded with jet fuel. Todd Schneider is a spokesperson for FirstEnergy. He says Ohio’s plants have taken extra precautions.

Lake County officials say the Perry plant has added extra security guards, extended the plant perimeter, and created a half-mile zone out into Lake Erie where no boats are permitted.

But even the nation’s airports may still be vulnerable, despite new stringent security measures set by the FAA. That’s in part because airport security is still handled by private companies like ITS in Independence. Last week the company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but is still providing some security for Hopkins. Senior Vice President John DeMel says his employees are being as careful as they can.

But the thoroughness with which bags and passengers are checked can still vary from one airport to another. In the wake of last weeks’ attacks, the nation’s mayors are now calling for the federal government to take over security for all U.S. airports. And yesterday, the FBI warned that the current threat may not be over. Agents say their investigations have uncovered what may have been other attacks planned for last Tuesday.

But as Americans in Cleveland and elsewhere slowly recover from the shock of terrorism at home, one thing is certain. Most of us will never take our safety for granted again. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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