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Security Constant Since Sept. 11

by Chris Mulick, Annette Cary, Jeff St. John & Kathleen Gilstrap
Tri-City Herald, September 10, 2003

Though the anguish of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks continues its slow seep into history, there are few signs security has been relaxed at major Mid-Columbia installations.

New security measures related to the attacks have held steady in most cases, and activity in many sectors actually has escalated.

Fewer concrete barriers surround the Federal Building in Richland than after the first wave of security improvements following the attacks. But visitors still find a large section of the parking lot blocked off. And when they enter the building, they must show identification and have purses and briefcases X-rayed.

Visitation has been "extremely limited" at the Hanford nuclear reservation, said Andrea Powell, spokeswoman for the Department of Energy's Richland office. No more public road tours are offered on Saturdays.

Security for Hanford workers entering the site can change week to week and month to month, based on international conditions.

Security activities at the commercial nuclear power plant at the southern end of the site continue to escalate. The first wave of federal mandates was implemented a year ago, resulting in a new concrete barrier that surrounds the Columbia Generating Station, a new checkpoint to search vehicles and the hiring of additional security guards.

Energy Northwest also must redesign its defense plans to prepare for an even greater threat and standardize its training and qualifications to align with security forces at other nuclear sites around the country. The changes must be in place by October 2004.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which does some classified work for the federal government, follows the same DOE security alert system used at Hanford.

Since Sept. 11, the lab has been emphasizing travel safety for staff whose research takes them across the world. Staff leaving the country are first given information on potential terrorist threats in the countries they visit.

A bigger change for the lab may be its increased focus on national and homeland security projects. Its estimated annual payment for security work in fiscal year 2004 is expected to increase to $335 million from an estimated $270 million this year. Payments included in those budgets for homeland security work are expected to increase to an estimated $111 million from about $76 million.

Some of the projects the lab has worked on over the last two years are new, but others have just had more interest or funding since Sept. 11. For example, the lab has found a corporation to commercialize a security system that can be used at airports to see through clothing to spot weapons and explosives hidden beneath.

At dams operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, initial increases in security personnel, patrols and general surveillance has been augmented in the past year with new equipment -- motion detectors, video equipment, locks and the like, said spokesman Craig Sprankle.

Security remains stiff at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, where the number of National Guard soldiers increased to nearly 200 from about 10 before Sept. 11, said spokeswoman Mary Alice Binder.

The depot, seven miles west of Hermiston, stores 220,604 munitions and containers filled with 7.4 million pounds of deadly nerve and mustard agents scheduled for incineration beginning perhaps as early as this year.

Public tours have been halted and traffic barriers have been installed at the depot's main gate. Security measures are not likely to be relaxed until the weapons are destroyed, Binder said.

Changes at the Tri-Cities Airport in the past year have been more subtle than the temporary closure of the front driveway and much of its parking lot space immediately after the attacks.

Federal security screeners took over in November the work formerly done by private contractors. Explosive trace screening machines placed in front of the ticket counters crowded passengers, but a second security screening checkpoint helped passengers move more quickly to their gates.

A major construction project to expand the ticket lobby is expected to make room for those screening devices to go behind the ticket counters, making the airport experience more like it was before Sept. 11. The project is expected to be finished by Thanksgiving.

"We'll have a facility that works similarly to the way it did before," said airport Manager Jim Morasch.

Advancements also are continuing to be made on the health front. Before Sept. 11, potassium iodide was available at Washington pharmacies only with a prescription. But as residents began to buy it off the Internet as an antidote to nuclear contamination, the state changed regulations to make it an over-the-counter drug.

Potassium iodide, often called KI, can protect the thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine in a nuclear disaster. But it doesn't protect the body from other radioactive isotopes.

The Washington State Department of Health continues to recommend that people within 10 miles of the Energy Northwest nuclear reactor leave the area immediately if there is a disaster, without waiting to take a dose of KI.

However, the agency sent out updated information on correct doses to doctors in the Tri-City area a few months ago for their patients who still want the pills.

The terrorist attacks also prompted federal money to hire five new public health specialists for the Mid-Columbia. Four work out of the Benton Franklin Health Department to serve five counties and prepared to organize quarantines, whether it's plague caused by terrorists or the respiratory disease SARS spreading from China.

"The whole purpose is to look at diseases with the potential to be used by terrorists and begin to plan," said Harvey Crowder, regional emergency response coordinator.

Chris Mulick, Annette Cary, Jeff St. John & Kathleen Gilstrap, Herald staff writers
Security Constant Since Sept. 11
Tri-City Herald, September 10, 2003

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