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County’s emergency management changes outlook

Josh Nichols

On Sept. 11 of last year, Moffat County Emergency Manager Clyde Anderson was driving to work when he heard something about a plane crash on the radio.

He didn’t get the whole story, he said.

He had to make a stop at NAPA Auto Parts and it was there that owner John Ponikvar filled him in that a plane, suspected to have been hi-jacked by terrorists, had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

“I finally got the whole picture of what was happening,” he said. “I told John, ‘If that’s the case, this is bad. Our lives have changed forever.'”

Anderson went to the Public Safety Center and watched the events unfold with others in the office.

“We talked about it and said ‘This is serious,'” he said. “We need to think about what we’re going to do locally.”

But as new disasters continued to appear on the television screen, no one was sure what the local department should be doing.

“We basically had to sit and watch things unfold,” he said. “Nobody knew the extent of this. It was extremely stressful. But at a local level, that’s all you could do.”

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead agreed that the events that morning were stressful.

“We watched as the rest of the country did, as the events unfolded,” he said. “Then we began to realize what’s at risk, but at that time what we were hearing on CNN just like everyone else was that we were on heightened alert. For me, that was frustrating.”

The Sheriff’s Department immediately put in 24-hour, 72-hour and long-term plans.

“Thinking back to the days and weeks following that day, there was a lot of jitters about when the next attacks would come,” Anderson said.

The department was placed on heightened alert, where it has remained, Grinstead said.

“Since Sept. 11 we’ve been on heightened alert and basically are supposed to keep our eyes open for anything unusual,” Grinstead said.

Grinstead said Sept. 11 has had an impact on how the department operates.

“I’ve seen a closer relationship with Clyde and all the other agencies,” he said. “We now have personal protection equipment and test kits for Anthrax. We want to be able to respond and meet the needs of the officers and those they must protect when we get a call.”

The department has been ramped up, but hasn’t changed significantly, Grinstead said.

“A year later here, we are at business as usual,” he said.

If one thing changed after Sept. 11 it was the jobs of emergency managers throughout the country, Anderson said.

“The work load increased substantially,” he said. “We had many issues that had never been looked at before.”

One of his new tasks was to develop an interagency emergency management plan for dealing with disasters, particularly terrorism.

“9/11 caught everyone by surprise and immediately cast terrorism in the

spotlight,” he said. “My work load increased dramatically because of the new interest in that. We had to reprioritize everything.”

If a tragedy like Sept. 11 were to occur again, Anderson said, the department would not find out from CNN that it is on heightened alert.

The Sheriff’s Department now has open communication with the newly created Colorado Office of Preparation and Security and the FBI, Anderson said.

He said he also saw an increase in funds available for equipping officers.

“There was always grant money available but all of a sudden there was extremely large amounts of money,” he said. “Right now we’re spending money to equip officers with personal protection equipment.”

The emergency management plan will continually have to be tweaked, he said.

“This should be viewed as an ongoing process,” he said. “We’re going to have to keep going back and rethinking what we’re doing.”

Anderson said, if anything, the department should be improving in all areas.

He used an example of a major bus accident.

If doesn’t matter if the bus just lost control and rolled off the road

or it crashed because the driver was shot by a terrorist. Emergency responders have to respond the same, he said.

“Being prepared for one, we are better preparing ourselves for the other,” he said. “A building is destroyed, people are hurt. The response is similar.”

Priorities have just had to be adjusted, he said.

“In the six months preceding Sept. 11, we were more concerned about hoof and mouth disease,” he said. “That was a big issue but when 9/11 hit we had to reprioritize. It’s something most of us never thought we1d be dealing with but here we are dealing with it. Some thought it could happen and some thought it would happen but most didn’t think it would happen to the extent it did.”

Anderson said he has undertaken a new role in his job, a new role that he will have until he retires.

“I expect the rest of my career I will be focused on terrorism,” he said.

“We’re still going to have floods and plane crashes. Those aren’t going to go away. But now it’s just a bigger picture.”

Answering the question of whether or not Northwest Colorado is threatened by terrorists is difficult, Anderson said.

“Looking at the Western Slope, we’d be high on a hit list because we have a target here,” he said in reference to the power plant. “But let’s face it. Terrorists aren’t looking at a map and circling Maybell. Is this a good place to target? I don’t know. I would think they would want to hit a place with a denser population.”

But emergency responders need to expect the worst, and know the enemy, he said.

“We know it’s going to happen again and need to be able to respond effectively and efficiently,” he said. “These people aren’t just willing to die for their cause. They want to die. It’s not a willingness. It’s a desire.”


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