Published November 20, 2002
DENVER – In the heartland of America there are concerns that a complacent attitude has set in about terrorism — that there's no urgency to prepare for an attack in towns where neighbors trust each other and everyone knows each other's name.
But one need only look back to Oklahoma City, 1995, to see terrorism is very possible in the heartland.
Some in Denver want small-town mid-Americans to wake up and learn how to react in case an attack happens on their streets.
"I think one of the problems of terrorism is that we don't know when it's going to happen or where it's going to strike," said Colorado Department of Public Safety director Sue Mencer.
"Communities are going to have to understand they are always the first responders and it's not going to necessarily be a trained fireman or policeman ... it's going to be a member of the community that just reacts."
Professors at the University of Denver believe that although Middle America is less densely populated than either coast and has fewer obvious targets such as the Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell, an attack in the heartland would be particularly devastating.
The Midwest boasts major railroad hubs, and an attack on the area could paralyze California, which gets its power and water from Colorado and Utah.
America's interior states — especially Utah, Wyoming and Colorado — are also home to many of America's critical resources.
"Introducing a virus into our wheat seed, for example ... would destroy our capability of feeding ourselves," said Dr. Murray Hamilton, director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Homeland Defense at the University of Denver, who is working with colleagues to pinpoint vulnerable areas and how to protect them.
Hamilton said a virus could also taint the corn supply, or foot-and-mouth disease could be spread among cattle with devastating effects.
"They could have a pretty severe effect on a very large portion of the United States' GNP by doing something in our states," Murray said.
Many of the country's major rivers begin in the Rocky Mountains area, and most of the country's oil and natural gas is extracted there and shipped to all corners of the nation via railroads and interstate highways.
The problems of homeland security are so complex that government is increasingly looking to academics for guidance.
"I think a lot of universities are stepping forward and offering suggestions," said Mencer. "Terrorism is very effective. I think this is the age we're in — I don't think we're going to see it go away."