Juneau to host homeland security conference

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2004

Representatives of Alaska's communities will converge on Juneau in mid-March to participate in the state's first homeland security conference.

"We want to provide training and exposure along with technical assistance," said Tom Burgess, director of the state Office of Homeland Security.

The conference is scheduled from March 9 to 11 at Centennial Hall. It includes presentations on new equipment for first responders such as police and fire personnel, sessions on cruise ship and commercial shipping safety, and a presentation on how to protect computer systems from hackers, Burgess said.

The Office of Homeland Security, a division of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, was created last March and has received $36 million in grants since then. That money is disbursed to communities for training and additional first-responder equipment, among other things, Burgess said. Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau receive the largest share of the funds.

"This is anti-terrorism money, but the equipment has dual use," Burgess said.

The same equipment that helps Alaska communities prepare for the worst is used by communities for daily law enforcement and medical needs.

Alaska's threat level is at yellow, or elevated, which is the same as the national threat level. Burgess said there are many potential terrorist targets in the state, most notably energy infrastructure such as the oil pipeline. Ports also are considered targets, and Alaska has more coastline than the 48 contiguous states.

"We have targets in the state of Alaska that have international value. We also have targets targeted by domestic terrorists," Burgess said.

He said Web sites maintained by the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front used to include lists of targets - including targets in Alaska - and instructions on how to make bombs or commit arson. That information is no longer available on the sites.

Southeast Alaska doesn't have a lot of targets, as far as the security officials see it. The communities are small and far apart, so there aren't any large population centers. Burgess said the only notable targets in Southeast Alaska are cruise ships.

"If there's a vulnerability down here, that's one of the key areas," he said.

Burgess pointed out that injuries from an attack on a cruise ship would overflow Bartlett Regional Hospital beyond its capacity. He said there has never been a credible terrorist threat on a cruise ship in Alaska waters. The state has kept the cruise lines in mind during its preparations, however.

"We're working very closely with the U.S. Coast Guard. They're occasionally and randomly escorting ships," Burgess said.

He said the Office of Homeland Security also is pushing grant money to communities along the cruise routes to enhance their fire and law enforcement services.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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