Vigilance remains elevated after 9/11 |

Vigilance remains elevated after 9/11

William Ferchland

Although far from the carnage on the East Coast of five years ago, South Shore law enforcement agencies have not been the same since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Inroads to grant funds opened for new equipment. Plans for crowded events such as the New Year’s Eve celebration at Stateline were modified. Awareness at all levels has increased.

“I think with the element of terrorism, I’m more cognizant of the environment around me,” said Brad Piazzo, acting division chief for the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department.

“We’re probably seeing more FBI agents coming out on New Year’s Eve,” said South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Marty Hale.

The possibility of an attack at Tahoe is not infeasible. In 1980, an 850-pound bomb disguised as a copy machine was rolled into Harveys Resort Casino by a disgruntled gambler, John Birges Sr., who demanded $3 million in a ransom note. Before the money could be delivered, the bomb went off in the evacuated casino, punching a 30- to 40-foot hole in one section.

The Sept. 11 attacks, though, created a culture where every important landmark or piece of infrastructure in the country has been imagined as a possible target for terrorists.

“It’s definitely brought more awareness around how we look at facilities (and) events for security,” said Todd Crawford, an El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy with the Office of Emergency Services. “We definitely look at all those things differently since 9/11 and take the terrorist threat a little bit more seriously than we used to before 9/11.”

As the anniversary is recognized today, political debates regarding the attacks, and how to keep Americans safe, have increased.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is helping spearhead the Real Security Act of 2006, legislation aimed at modifying aspects of homeland security.

The act, Reid said in a statement, would incorporate recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and insist on reducing troop levels in Iraq.

“We will implement a strategy for finishing the job in Iraq, we will invest in the resources first responders need to do their jobs and we will provide the funding needed to make it easier for emergency crews to communicate during emergencies by investing $500 million in interoperability,” Reid said. “This will go a long way to protect the people of Nevada and the millions of tourists who visit our state each year.”

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush wants more leeway in the National Security Agency’s surveillance plan for finding potential terrorists plotting against America.

While politicians look ahead, Chris Sauer, fire chief for the Fallen Leaf Fire Department, looked back at the protection equipment and breathing apparatuses purchased with grant money. “A small department like ours probably wouldn’t have had access to (many) grants before 9/11,” Sauer said.

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