Securing the county

Local officials: Homeland Security funds equal increased preparation

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The Sept. 11 events in New York City rippled the waters of Moffat County.

The repercussions of Sept. 11 are still felt across America five years later, and even rural communities in Northwest Colorado have experienced some changes because of what happened at the World Trade Center.

With America's focus squarely aimed at security, agencies were formed to tighten up defenses, and first responders were trained for any type of situation.

The creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has had the most impact on Moffat County, said Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta.

"We've gotten quite a bit of equipment from Homeland Security dollars," Vanatta said. "We were able to get more tactical equipment for officers and Haz-Mat equipment."

He said personal protection equipment acquired since Sept. 11 offers more protection for officers in the field.

However, Vanatta said not all of the changes were beneficial. Some funding had to be shifted around by the federal government to pay for the new security programs.

"Because so much money went to Homeland Security, we lost dollars for our drug task force," Vanatta said. "On one hand, it helped us get better equipment, and on the other hand, it hurt us from the drug task force side."

Vanatta said the biggest change he has seen is the dramatic increase in information sharing since the incident five years ago.

Some Homeland Security funds acquired by Colorado law enforcement agencies and fire departments were used to purchase 800-megahertz radios. This greatly increased the sharing of information, especially between the state and federal agencies, and even industries around the country.

Vanatta said he is able to be on his portable radio in Craig, and be in contact with a patrol car driving the streets of Denver.

There are a number of 800-megahertz systems in Colorado, Vanatta said, including the state system, and additional systems for Denver and Garfield County.

The Craig Police Department, Craig Fire/Rescue, Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Colorado State Patrol and The Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services are capable of communicating on the system.

K.C. Hume, a sergeant with the Sheriff's Office and captain with Craig Fire/Rescue, said Maybell ambulance service and Artesia Fire protection District in Dinosaur also use the radios.

He said some Homeland Security funds the fire department received were used for the regional Haz-Mat team to secure equipment and training.

Another change the public has noticed, especially ranchers in Craig, is the new location of one of the city's water distribution centers.

Located on First Street west of the Public Safety Center, the new facility takes the place of a former water-distribution center on Water Plant Road.

Homeland Security funds were used in an effort to provide more security for the city's water supply.

"It's intended to limit access," Vanatta said. "There are also some new cameras out there."

Employees of the Craig Station power plant notice a change every day as they enter the facility. Before Sept. 11 there was no guard shack at the entrance of the power plant.

"We call it a manned checkpoint," said Jim Van Someren, spokesman for Tri-State Generation and Transmission. "It's the most visible thing since Sept. 11 that people will notice. Everybody who gains access is screened."

Van Someren said delivery drivers have scheduled runs when delivering to the plant, and anyone driving up must be cleared by the facility before entering.

There are some new policies in place at the plant, he said, but nothing the general public would notice.

New policies are the biggest change to be found at The Memorial Hospital since Sept. 11, said Vic Updike, plant operations manager.

"We implemented a new plan," he said. "It's a 'Dr. Black' code that informs staff of a lock-down of the facility."

Depending on the threat, the hospital staff is then prepared to identify ways that air gets into the building. They can decide which units need to be shut down in the event of an anthrax or similar threat.

Personnel will be posted at doors for security situations, Updike said.

Emergency medical technicians have also been certified at a level of de-contamination, where they can set up a tent and de-contaminate people before they enter the hospital.

Twice a year the hospital conducts drills where these techniques are practiced. The next is scheduled for October.

A new mass casualty trailer is stationed in Craig, and it is supplied and ready to roll due to Homeland Security funds, Director of Emergency Medical Services Tom Soos said. The trailer holds supplies and equipment for 40 people.

"We can respond to any type of event," Soos said. "The staff is trained to a haz-mat operations level. We can do decontamination. We're equipped and trained as people responding to the scene."

Soos said training is useful in other aspects, such as in an event where a farmer has fallen into fertilizer. He will be decontaminated before he enters the hospital by trained decontamination teams.

Soos said one the biggest changes since Sept. 11, though, has been the use of 800-megahertz. Any hospital in Colorado can communicate with another facility, from EMS crews to emergency rooms, Soos said.

"I can pick up a portable radio at home, and talk to an ambulance in Denver," he said. "During a big incident, we can talk to all the agencies involved. A disaster at a mine or power plant, for example."

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