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Nations water works put on high alert

Monday, 24 September 2001 23:34 (ET)

Nations water works put on high alert By ELI J. LAKE

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. drinking water suppliers have been advised, at the direction of the FBI, to be on alert and exercise caution to guard against possible attempts at sabotage in the wake of the recent terror attacks, United Press International learned Monday.

"We have advised all utilities to be on alert and cautious," Tom Curtis, the deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, or AWWA, told UPI in an interview. "We are not responding to a specific threat advisory from the FBI concerning water utilities, but we have advised water utilities to be on a heightened state of alert."

The federal government has taken a number of precautions since the Sept. 11 attacks against the possible threat of another strike on American targets. The FBI has grounded the nation's crop duster planes, for example. Ronald Reagan National Airport outside of Washington has been closed since the suicide hijackings which killed over 6,000 people at the Pentagon and World Trade Center as well.

Curtis however did say that the FBI had asked the water suppliers to take extra precautions. One drinking water industry source who has seen the advisory said the warning "advises utilities to be aware of security and make contact with local law enforcement and FBI authorities."

Since the attacks, the AWWA has actually issued two separate warnings to U.S. water utilities. The first was on the day of the attacks, according to Curtis. But the association sent out a reminder on Sept. 21, at the request of the FBI, to remind utilities to remain vigilant against terrorism for 30 days following the first advisory.

"There are generally three things a water utility would be thinking about," Curtis said. He said the first was controlling access to a reservoir; the second would be the actual water supply; and finally the treatment plant and associated storage tanks.

An article in the June 2001 issue of American Water Journal says that physical destruction of a water supply is more likely than contamination in the event of a terror attack. "Because guns and explosives are easier to obtain than large amounts of contaminants or toxic chemicals, many observers believe the most likely scenario for a terrorist attack on a water system would involve physical destruction of the system's components," it says. But it warns that both scenarios should be "guarded against."

In the near future, according to industry sources, the Sandia National Labs will release a report funded by the water utilities outlining specific security vulnerabilities in every drinking water system throughout the country.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 25, 2001

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