Photo by Diane Cox
Patty Miller of East Alton is thinking of her daughter’s future, worried about the world she may be sending her child into.
She’s not alone.
“You just don’t know anymore,” Miller says. “Something can happen at any time and any place. My daughter Kayla is a senior in high school at East Alton-Wood River and I know I can’t keep her at home forever. These terrorist attacks have her reconsidering colleges and opportunities; she’s considering staying closer to home.
“I worry about the potential targets in our area a lot. We have the refineries, Olin and all the pro-sports events and concerts just across the river from us.”
Miller is not the only concerned citizen in the area and local officials, such as Alton Police Chief Jason “Jake” Simmons, are focusing on possible terrorist hot spots in the Riverbend.
“Things have changed in terms of how we have thought about potential terrorist plots and targets since 2001,” Simmons says. “We have potential sites in our general area that need additional watch because they could be attractive to terrorists. We’ve met on concerns with the Clark Bridge, lock and dam, the levee and marina, just to name a few in the Riverbend region.
“Hampering transportation in any way could be devastating long term.”
Transportation and communication
Having the ability to reach a scene in an emergency situation is crucial for law enforcement, fire personnel and first responders. Taking control of or damaging a bridge could not only inhibit emergency response but could have long-term ramifications on day-to-day life for citizens.
Companies responsible for transporting supplies from one half of the country to the other would be stopped in their tracks in the event of a terrorist attack on our means of mobility in the Midwest. What will happen if the bridges or the river are shut down is a situation the terminal managers at W.W. Transport in Alton have had to consider.
“If tractor-trailers, trains or barges were shut down in any fashion, our nation would be in trouble,” W.W. Transport terminal manager Terry Sanders says. “It would take only two days for the population to start feeling the sting of having our transportation services stopped. After two weeks, the nation would shut down without food and supply deliveries. We have 50 to 60 trucks that transport flour, something that is used in so many products in people’s day-to-day lives.”
The main focus for local police chiefs has centered on communication since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and have continued to evolve as terror threats increase.
“The attacks that took place on 9-11 in New York set a whole new train of thought in motion for us here,” Wood River Police Chief Otis Steward said. “Following the World Trade Center attacks, we were asked to do a threat assessment in our area. What resulted was a binder-thick report on potential targets in our region, contingency plans and a better way to utilize our resources.
“Everyone knows what we have around us and we’ve worked hand-in-hand with schools and refineries to have more communication.”
Hartford, Roxana, South Roxana and Wood River surround ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66 and Shell Oil Co. According to the ConocoPhillips website, the facility estimates to have an annual revenue of $500 million to $1 billion and employ a staff that can range from 500 to 1,000 workers.
“We are in contact with the refineries and the schools on a monthly basis and in some cases, we may meet weekly,” Roxana Police Chief William Cunningham said. “It seems as though all the agencies involved communicate well, sharing concerns and resources. Each agency has its own plan, resources and assets in place, but Roxana is a small town and we are limited.
“As with our neighboring towns, we all rely on each other for mutual aid. As far as concerns with terrorism in our area, we have had a plan in place for that situation since before I joined the department.”
What if something happens during school hours?
Local police chiefs will not divulge their plans or preparations for the safety and security of the municipalities involved, but Chiefs Steward, Smock, Simmons and Cunningham want their citizens to know these concerns are not being overlooked.
“We know we have schools very close to refining facilities and we are aware of how an attack can cause environmental concerns for our citizens as well,” Cunningham said. “First and foremost, our number one concern is our community, maintaining citizen safety and protecting our neighborhoods.”
In the event a situation should occur in the Riverbend, procedures are in place for community safety and the security of schoolchildren.
“We have coordinated with our local schools to protect students and keep parents informed quickly,” Steward said. “Just as in the case of the recent bank robbery in Wood River, we notified the local schools and they went on a soft lockdown and notified parents through email and an automated phone call. In the case of an attack in our area, the schools would communicate the situation with the parents and instruct them how to reach their children safely. It’s an organized manner of communication that is a source of quick information to parents.”
Administrators at Lewis and Clark Elementary and Junior High School in Wood River discussed the potential nearby threats during a recent board meeting to continue to remind the board and staff of the real possibilities of concern.
“We are constantly looking for the best approach to keep our students safe while in our care at the school,” LCE-JH Superintendent Dr. Patrick Anderson said. “We maintain constant connection to both the Hartford and Wood River police departments. Those two departments have access to our internal and external cameras to aid them in an emergency situation.
“We have a crisis plan in place that includes intruders, fire, earthquake and terrorism. We are extremely aware of worldwide events and we need to be prepared in the event our area is ever a target.”
Anderson went on to explain that in the event of an emergency, parents should not report to the school to retrieve their child until given the “all clear” from the school.
“Parents will be notified through the all-call system, email, school messenger or phone calls,” Anderson said. “The best thing parents can do is to wait to hear from us. It could be more dangerous or raise more attention to our school if parents rush to the buildings.
“Detailed instructions will be given for the safety of the parents and for the safety of their children. We have organized as much as we possibly can so we can do our job in the best capacity with the first priority being the protection of the students and staff.”
What can we do?
Residents, motorists and passersby are asked to be diligent and report suspicious behavior to local authorities for further investigation.
“We have a great group of men and women in our police department, but there are a lot of instances where crimes and problems couldn’t have been solved without the help of our citizens,” Smock said. “If people see something that is suspicious or needs to be looked into, we want our citizens to be diligent and call us. We would rather they call, even if they are not sure.”
“There have been countless situations that have been defused before a tragedy occurred because a citizen called in something that didn’t seem right to them.”
Probably most importantly, officials ask citizens to simply be alert and cautious.
“We hear of many situations where citizens are reluctant to get involved, but they do have the option to make a report anonymously,” Smock said. “People are concerned about being mistaken, but we’d rather check something out and apologize for an inconvenience than deal with a major tragedy in our area. Being in the center of our country, some people may feel we are not in as much danger for a terrorist attack, but we have many things around us that could be used as a tool.
“In Bethalto, we have the airport and our water plant (located in Wood River). Our water plant provides for homes and businesses in Bethalto, Rosewood Heights, Moro and Meadowbrook.”
For Patty Miller, she can only hope to sleep a little easier, knowing her area’s schools and officials are doing what they can to use all available resources, looking out for her daughter and the community.
“It’s good to know that our local authorities are not sitting on their hands, and they are being proactive.”
What citizens can do to help prevent local tragedy:
• Be aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t look right, report it.
• Don’t attempt to interfere; report what you have witnessed and let the police respond.
• Make note of as many details as possible to help police in the event of a search.
• When in doubt, report it anyway.
• Don’t rush to schools until an all-clear or instructions are given.
What to look for:
• Someone appearing to be out of place or act suspicious or nervous.
• Is there a suspicious package, box, bag, canister?
• What time is it? Is it unusual to have a person or people at a location during that time?