Most of us have a tendency to envision a terrorist attack on America in terms of 9-11. But the next attack -- which some experts say is inevitable -- may be entirely different in nature and could occur in our backyard.
While South Carolina does not have a metropolitan area anywhere near the size of New York City, it does have targets that might be attractive to terrorists. And, because it is a coastal state, it is vulnerable to an attack from the sea.
South Carolina may not seem to be a likely terrorist target, but it has nuclear reactors, chemical plants, a major port, military installations, large factories and industrial facilities, large sporting arenas and significant tourist destinations. Earlier this month, in fact, two Florida students, one an Egyptian, the other a Kuwaiti, were arrested north of Charleston for speeding and were found to have explosives resembling pipe bombs in the trunk of their car.
The FBI and other federal agents now are handling the case. But it may be months before authorities can determine if the men have terrorist ties.
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This incident indicates that the state remains vulnerable to attack. But the arrest and the subsequent involvement of state and federal authorities also indicate that the state response now is quite different from what it would have been before 9-11.
The state, in fact, has a significant anti-terrorism network in place. Gov. Mark Sanford has appointed a lead counter-terrorism official with oversight of all Department of Homeland Security programs.
The state also has regional emergency services directors and a 16-member Counterterrorism Advisory Council. A federally funded state center also has been created in Columbia to mine computer data seeking criminal patterns in intelligence and other information sent in from across the state. And South Carolina has joined other states in using federal DHS money to buy radio systems and related equipment to link hundreds of local fire, police, EMS and other disaster-related agencies during a crisis.
While much of the focus is on anti-terrorism efforts, the state also must be prepared for natural disasters, such as hurricanes, or man-made disasters, such as a chemical spill. A hurricane such as Hugo is capable of wreaking far more havoc than most terrorist attacks.
There is, of course, no way to provide absolute security. For example, commercial nuclear reactors in the state are not covered by DHS funds and are guarded by private security forces. All remain vulnerable to an attack from the air.
Nonetheless, the progress made over the past six years in making the state more secure is reassuring. It also is apparent that state security officials are continually seeking new ways to confront this threat.
Perhaps the worst thing the state could do is assume it couldn't happen here.
State is better prepared for a terrorist attack or other crisis than it was six years ago.
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