What to do if a Terrorist Attacks Somewhere in the State of Florida

Anthrax Scare Initiates New Anti-Terrorism Plan
by Jennifer Ellis

Source: Florida Today

January 17, 2001

MELBOURNE, Fla. - Parts of Brevard County’s new anti-terrorism plan were put into action Saturday night when two landscapers discovered a homemade sign that said it had been coated in the deadly bacteria, anthrax.

Bob Lay, director of Brevard’s Emergency Operations Center, said that even though the sign didn’t seem to be a terrorist threat, "it should be taken seriously." He said he was pleased with the way the agencies worked together to manage what could have been a crisis.

Created in December, the plan specifically addresses what each county agency, including the school district, port authority, rescue and law enforcement divisions, should do if a terrorist were to attack somewhere in Brevard or in the state of Florida. This plan will be included in the county’s emergency plan, which also includes strategies for hurricanes and other disasters.

Anthrax, a highly infectious disease found in sheep and cattle, can be fatal to humans if not treated immediately. Many health officials have expressed concern that the bacteria, which is not illegal to possess, could be used as a tool of biological warfare.

The sign was sent to the FBI Crime Lab in Tampa. Final bacteriological test results were expected Tuesday but were not released. However, preliminary results released Monday do not indicate the presence of bacteria spores, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

"I wouldn’t consider (Saturday’s events) as a terrorist act," Lay said Saturday. "But the plan, at least the parts that were implemented, worked well."

The landscapers, who had been working at a vacant gas station on the northwest corner of U.S. 1 and Suntree Boulevard, found the sign about 5:15 p.m. Saturday.

Within 15 minutes, law enforcement officials closed U.S. 1 from the Pineda Causeway to Viera Boulevard and two restaurants had been evacuated.

The road was reopened two hours later, although Suntree Boulevard remained closed until almost 11 p.m.

Within moments of the sign’s discovery, workers with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad and Brevard County Fire-Rescue’s Hazardous Materials team were placed on standby.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bob Sarver, Lay and Kenny Merritt, district chief of the Brevard County Fire-Rescue, held a conference call with federal agents to evaluate the situation. The decision then was made to have the Tampa crime lab take over the identification of any potential chemical threat.

Under the anti-terrorism plan, national agencies including the FBI, will assist local agencies with their investigation. They will not, however, take over any investigation.

In addition to testing for anthrax, the FBI is checking the sign for fingerprints in hopes of identifying its creator, said Sarver.

If caught, the person who planted the sign could be charged with making a false bomb report, Sarver said. The second-degree felony carries a 15-year prison sentence.

Copyright © 2001 FLORIDA TODAY

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