Dunedin tightens security at water plant, City Hall
By AARON SHAROCKMAN
DUNEDIN -- City officials were asked to think like terrorists Wednesday.
"We want to balance our readiness with our great way of life," deputy fire chief Scott Magness said. "We're not just sitting around waiting for something to happen."
So officials acted by examining their homeland security: what's in place and, more important, what's not.
"If you see a weakness, so can they," city water division director Irvin Kety said.
The city's water plant has locked down its facility to help prevent any outside contamination. Local water systems have been put on alert by the federal government in anticipation of possible terrorist activity. Before, anyone could drive into the plant and walk through the door. Now security personnel secure the entrance and allow only authorized employees and guests onto the premises.
The plant itself is locked all day and visitors must be let in by a receptionist, Kety said. The new safety protocol will help secure the plant from a biological or chemical threat, but Kety suggested adding high-tech cameras and motion sensors around the two on-site water tanks.
He also explored buying advanced contaminate detectors, though the high price -- upwards of $40,000 -- may dash hopes for the equipment now, he said.
Most important, he said, is to keep security improvements quiet.
"The less attention you draw to your security, the better," Kety said. "We don't want to talk about plant security. We don't want the public to know."
Magness told city commissioners and key department officials that the threat of a nuclear event was low. He said that a situation with explosive materials is a far more likely scenario in Dunedin because the materials are more readily available. He cautioned that no credible threat is currently present.
"Dunedin is as susceptible to an attack as anywhere else in the country," said Magness, adding that instructions on making a biological weapon are available online. "And that means we need to be prepared."
To a great extent, Magness said his department already is. With cooperation from the county, Magness said his staff has emergency plans in place to deal with most any attack. Fire chief Bud Meyer said the county emergency planning teams "are a model for the rest of the world."
"We're light years ahead of many places," Magness said. "Twenty-five fire departments functioning as one. I challenge someone to find that elsewhere."
Among the changes already made, all city employees will get plastic identification cards that double as electronic keys to city properties. The ID cards will have to be worn at all times on city property.
The electronic card system, which will include the employee's picture will be able to monitor the movements of Dunedin employees while preventing access to sensitive areas. Through the electronic system, different personnel can have access to different buildings, and different areas within the building.
The cards cannot be duplicated and can be deactivated if lost, maintenance director Keith Fogarty said.
Dunedin fire trucks are now equipped with hazardous materials suits to help in the event of a biological or chemical situation. Magness said the department also will be outfitting trucks with a nerve gas antidote.
For firefighters such as Magness, the loss on Sept. 11 of 194 "brothers" who died trying to help others has made the importance of security paramount.
"We've had to redirect our thinking," Magness said. "We best honor their memory by being ready to respond for our community."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks