Power, water plants, dams and bridges check security

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Power, water plants, dams and bridges check security

By Tom Charlier charlier@gomemphis.com

In the days after terror struck, sheriff's deputies began patrolling local chemical plants and a suburban utility moved to expand the alarm network guarding its water system. The Coast Guard intensified its monitoring of Mississippi River bridges, security was tightened at key electrical stations and tours of area dams were suspended.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 assaults on the East Coast, authorities across the Mid-South have stepped up their efforts to protect critical facilities where terrorists could do the most harm.

"We went over 15 to 20 scenarios, and not all of them were in Memphis," said Clint Buchanan, director of the Memphis-Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.

The EMA this week has been coordinating meetings among various local agencies and utilities overseeing vital services and public safety in an effort to improve security.

The agency also has urged local residents to maintain emergency kits, including supplies of water, in case an attack occurs. "If something happens in Memphis and someone does get into the water supply, it's going to be shut down," Buchanan said.

With its water systems, dams, chemical industry, transportation network, and even nuclear power plants, the Mid-South offers a rich array of potential targets for terrorists.

In the meetings, officials have looked at ways to harden some of those targets.

"We've talked about everything there is to cover - water supplies, transportation, utilities, public buildings - to make sure we've got 'em as safe as we can make 'em," said Don Wright, chief deputy of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.

Here's a look at some critical facilities and what's being done to protect them.

n|Water supplies: The Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division supplies an average of 162 million gallons a day from a deep aquifer to more than 200,000 homes and businesses. LG&W maintains its own security force, as well as contractor-supplied guards.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the utility moved to "increase security at all of our facilities," said corporate communications manager Mark Heuberger.

Some suburban municipalities also have been taking extra steps.

Officials in Bartlett, for instance, met this week with the company that provides the city with alarm services and discussed possible additional measures to improve security, especially at its eight water towers, said Kenny Henry, division manager for water treatment.

n|Electric services: The Tennessee Valley Authority supplies power to 8 million people in a seven-state area, including customers of LG&W.

Since Sept. 11, TVA has adopted "heightened security" measures at its facilities, including power plants, agency headquarters in Knoxville and offices in Memphis and other cities, spokesman John Moulton said.

n|Bridges: Local authorities have discussed ways to keep closer tabs on the Hernando DeSoto and Memphis & Arkansas bridges across the Mississippi River.

Wright said authorities on the Tennessee side of the river need to meet with officials in Arkansas to make sure law-enforcement officials are patrolling the bridges - both above and below them - on a regular basis. The Coast Guard has recalled reservists to help with such security tasks.

"We're going to be doing what we've done before, but more of it," said Lt. Commander Kent Booher of the Coast Guard's marine safety office in Memphis.

The measures recall the days following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor when armed sentries were posted at local bridges over the river.

n|Chemical plants: The sheriff's office has intensified its patrols of plants handling hazardous materials, especially those clustered in the Fite Road area of Woodstock. Deputies are looking for suspicious vehicles and other activity, Wright said.

Greg Zweig, environmental manager for the DuPont Co.'s plant in Woodstock, said companies such as his also are boosting their internal security. DuPont has closed some entrances, more closely checked incoming vehicles and accelerated inspection schedules.

n|Dams: The Corps of Engineers and TVA have tightened security at their dams, and the corps has suspended public tours into internal areas of dams, powerhouses and locks.

n|Nuclear power plants: The closest commercial reactors are TVA's Browns Ferry plant near Athens, Ala., and Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One plant in Russellville, Ark., and Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson, Miss.

Since Sept. 11, the nation's 103 commercial reactors have been subject to "Level 3" security status, the highest state of readiness within a three-tiered system put into effect in 1998, said Ken Clark, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atlanta regional office.

- Tom Charlier: 529-2572


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 22, 2001

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