Friday, January 21, 2005

NH monitoring terrorist threat in Boston

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By David Tirrell-Wysocki
Associated Press Writer

CONCORD, N.H. - As authorities in the Northeast search for six potential terrorists who may be aiming for Boston, Homeland Security officials in New Hampshire are standing by, ready to implement emergency plans they've been working on since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Authorities insisted there was no confirmed threat, but Massachusetts officials asked New Hampshire to put its radiological response teams on standby. Those are the people who would respond to nuclear incidents, such as a "dirty" bomb that releases radioactive material. The FBI tip mentioned a dirty bomb attack.

Bruce Cheney, director of New Hampshire Emergency Services, said Massachusetts authorities asked his agency to be ready with radiological testing technicians.

Emergency Management spokesman Jim Van Dongen said New Hampshire is ready to respond with specific equipment that could be used in a nuclear incident.

"The reason they called New Hampshire, besides being next door, is because of the nuclear plants," Van Dongen said, referring to the plant at Seabrook and in Vernon, Vt., just over the New Hampshire border. "We have radiological equipment that could be used. They wanted to give us a heads up."

He said the response teams and their equipment are on call, "which they always are."

"We're watching for developments," he said, "but there is no reason to start packing up equipment or anything like that," Van Dongen said.

Gov. John Lynch left President Bush's inaugural in Washington and headed home because of the threat.

"Based on the information we have received from federal officials, it does not appear that there is any cause for alarm," Lynch said. "The tip received by the FBI is unconfirmed and uncorroborated. Massachusetts officials have asked us to be prepared to offer support if it is needed, and we have made the necessary preparations."

The FBI stressed the tip is one of many from across the country that routinely are forwarded to local task forces for further investigation.

New Hampshire and other states have developed and fine-tuned local and regional emergency plans since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Last summer's Democratic Convention in Boston helped the state prepare to help in case of a disaster, manmade or otherwise, in the city.

For instance, a contingent of New Hampshire state troopers was posted north of Boston during the convention, keeping a lane of I-93 open for emergency vehicles and helping close many roads to and from the highway.

Traffic plans also have been made to get patients to New Hampshire hospitals in case an incident fills hospitals in Boston.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association can keep track of how many hospital beds are available. Planners also know where to divert patients to prevent hospitals from overflowing.

Last year's hepatitis threat in Derry also helped fine-tune emergency plans. It gave emergency officials in the state and the community near the Massachusetts border practice in quickly notifying the public of a problem and setting up clinics to immunize more than 2,000 people.

The alert went out after a worker at a Derry restaurant was found to be infected with the disease.

Responsibilities included determining how much medicine was needed, spreading the word to the media and public, setting up the clinics and obtaining equipment, from clipboards to tables and chairs to privacy curtains so people getting shots wouldn't be in an open room with hundreds of bystanders.

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