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Health Department Steps Up Security Measures

September 26, 2001
By: Sarah Molina
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Health Department is stepping up security measures in response to Gov. Bob Holden's proclamation of Missouri's vulnerability as a terrorist target.

"Information is absolutely critical," stated Maureen E. Dempsey, the department's director.

Dempsey announced the special program to prepare for certain terrorism attacks in the state at a special cabinet meeting the governor held to announce the appointment of a terrorism adviser.

The governor named a retired army officer living in Columbia to review state contingency plans for dealing with terrorist attacks.

The Health Department program involves "actively calling over 1100 [medical] sites within the state on a thrice weekly basis" to check for recurring symptoms in patients that could be the results of biological or chemical attacks.

Nancy Gonder, the Public Information Officer for the Health Department, said the program is simply a heightened surveillance measure from that already in place.

In addition, Gonder said the department will also be sending out notices to those medical sites who do not currently participate in the program and urge them to take an active role in "disease detection."

In light of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Holden also announced at the meeting the appointment of a new cabinet position to retired Army Col. Timothy Daniel to review the state's current emergency response plans.

"We believe Missouri is now the first state in the nation to go this extra mile in making certain that every action that can be taken is in readiness in case of another terrorist attack or other state emergency," Holden said.

The appointment comes as a precautionary measure because of the state's vulnerability as a terrorist target.

"We are centrally located to all destinations in the United States," Holden said. "We are a major transportation hub which includes a large number of strategic bridges, and we have two potentially significant military targets in our front yard."

Members from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Missouri Task Force 1, the Department of Public Safety, and the Missouri National Guard were also on hand to discuss current measures being taken by their department to ensure the safety of the state.

According to Jerry Uhlmann, Director for the State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri has already held several emergency exercises to prepare state agencies for possible acts of terrorism in the state and plans to increase the number of these sessions in the near future.

Charles Jackson, Missouri's Director of Public Safety, recalled the effectiveness of the measures taken by the department in the hours following the Sept. 11 attacks, siting secured state buildings, more available officers, enacted members of the National Guard, and patrolled areas of the Missouri River.

"If anything does happen in this state, we are prepared. I want to assure citizens, we are prepared," Jackson said.

Brig. Gen. George D. Shull, a representative from the National Guard, said the department is now maintaining 24-hour security, attempting to increase intelligence, and is ready "to employ capabilities."

"I think Missouri right now is in good shape," Holden said. "I think we are prepared."