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Safe and secure? – How terrorists could target Nevada County

Three years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, local officials fear terrorists setting multiple fires in Nevada County would divert resources from a strategic attack elsewhere.

But members of a special county committee that has been landing and spending Homeland Security grant money since then said the county would most likely be a place to flee and serve as a backup resource for more populated targets.

The most obvious nearby bull’s-eye is Beale Air Force Base, where the west coast’s main land-based military radar facility sits. The 10-story PAVE PAWS facility visible from Hammonton Smartville Road and Highway 20 in Yuba County constantly scans the Pacific Ocean for incoming missiles and satellites.



The 23,000-acre base just over the Yuba County line is also home to U-2 spy planes and will soon house the pilotless Global Hawk reconnaissance planes. There is also a wing of flying tankers that refuel military jets in midair.

The military has its own, visible security around Beale, and Nevada County is not responsible for it. But through state mutual aid agreements, the county could be responsible for terrorist attacks on the Bay Area and Sacramento.




“If they hit the Capital, who do you call?” said Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Chief Tim Fike, a member of the committee. “Nevada County is the first responder to the Sacramento metropolitan area.”

According to Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, who is also a committee member, other area targets include the railroad yards in Truckee and the Interstate 80 corridor.

“But the major threat is flight from Sacramento and San Francisco,” Royal said. “That could have a direct impact on us because of individuals fleeing into the rural counties.”

“We know we’re going to be an area of hideout above the holocaust,” said Grass Valley Fire Chief and committee member Hank Weston.

That knowledge, the mutual aid agreements, federal guidelines and a desire for equipment that could also be used for local disasters drove the committee’s almost $1.1 million in purchases and allotments since the terrorist attacks on America three years ago.

The largest piece of equipment on the list is a communications command center vehicle. According to Weston, the vehicle will cost between $325,000 and $350,000. There is $245,000 already earmarked for it, with the balance expected from next year’s grant, which the county must apply for periodically.

The vehicle would house dispatchers from fire, law enforcement and emergency health into one command center for terrorist or natural disasters. The vehicle and many other pieces of equipment, such as radios, decontamination trailers, computer mapping systems, moon suits and infrared cameras were selected by the committee for a dual purpose.

With the mutual aid agreements and equipment, “we could go anywhere in the state at anytime and we have to be at the same level those folks are,” Weston said.

Royal said equipment was selected “so we could respond to terrorist-based or natural disasters.” The committee felt that purchasing equipment that would be used solely in terrorists attacks “was not the best use of taxpayers dollars.”

“We took their list and tried to get the things that made the best sense for our county,” said Tom Coburn, program manger for the county’s Office of Emergency Services. “Almost all the stuff we can use in day-to-day operations.”

If a building collapsed from a terrorist attack, infrared cameras could be used to find people in them, Coburn said. Until that day, fire departments can use them to locate people in smoke-filled buildings.

Coburn also bristled at a recent article in the Oakland Tribune which said much of the Homeland Security money was being misspent. Coburn said the article inferred that much of the purchased equipment should be stockpiled for a terrorist event.

“The problem with that is no one would be trained on how to use it and it just sits there,” Coburn said.

“It’s providing us the tools we need to deal with major events,” Royal said. “It’s improving the communication between the departments.”

Weston said the Tribune’s claim that heart defibrillators went to Nevada County shopping centers was not accurate. They went to area state parks.

“It’s not just something that’s bought, put on the shelf and never used again,” Fike said of the equipment. “But it’s there should that horrific day ever come.”

Equipment list

The following items have been ordered with almost $1.1 million in Homeland Security grant funds since September 11, 2001. The amounts listed represent how much was earmarked for each order.

• Joint agencies communication vehicle and equipment: $279,000.

• Computer mapping systems: $204,000.

• Decontamination equipment: $148,000.

• Radios: $25,000.


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