April 17, 2013

Officials urge Mainers to be alert after tragedy

The bombings in Boston serve as a reminder of the realities of living in a post-9/11 world, authorities say.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line don’t appear to be part of a coordinated attack or have any direct connection to Maine, so Maine authorities have not ratcheted up security.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, visit our special section covering the Boston bombings.

However, behind the scenes, investigators and analysts are combing through intelligence and reaching out to community contacts looking for anything that might help the Boston investigation.

Beyond that, police say they remain alert — particularly with respect to critical infrastructure such as telecommunications equipment. They are urging residents to practice that same sense of vigilance.

“The one thing it reminds us is we cannot let our guard down and we need to make sure if you see something that’s not right – it isn’t, so call,” said South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins.

Police reported no change in security posture, in part because of systematic changes implemented after Sept. 11, 2001, when two of the terrorists came through Portland en route to the World Trade Center attack.

For example, Portland police already have a beefed-up presence at the jetport and South Portland has regular contact with the operators of the bulk oil storage facility there, one of the most visible targets.

“We’re giving special attention to critical infrastructure and transportation hubs,” Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Tuesday morning. “And I think that’s a stance that we certainly have locally and what we’ll see nationally, as well, in response to a tragedy such as the Boston bombings.”

“We know of no threats, credible or otherwise, locally,” Sauschuck said. “We are in active conversations with our federal partners, so we’re up to speed with what’s going on from an investigative standpoint.”

Law enforcement and other government agencies, as well as private companies, are sharing information much more than they did before Sept. 11, when a lack of openness among agencies was one reason the conspiracy was not uncovered before the attack.

One of the vehicles for that interaction is the Maine Information and Analysis Center, created after the Sept. 11 attacks to facilitate exchange of security information within the state and with federal authorities.

“They obviously have been on the go since this happened yesterday,” said Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, “not only analyzing what information we have come across that might be relative to the investigation but gathering information from media reports and law enforcement sources so we can stay apprised so if we need to make decisions on security issues we can make them based on information that is valid.”

Williams said some Maine-based federal authorities have been summoned to Boston to help with the mammoth investigation there.

“There’s a lot to be done and the days get long,” Williams said.

The FBI also coordinates the state’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which helps serve as a conduit for information between federal authorities and those at the local and state level.

Williams said state police, the National Guard and the Maine Emergency Management Agency also have been involved in meetings preparing for different contingencies.

“We haven’t jumped yet because as far as we know, there is no nexus between that event and the state of Maine,” he said, referring to the bombings Monday in Boston.

Williams said the biggest problem authorities would face if a similar event happened here would be limited hospital resources.

“The best we can hope for, in Portland or Bangor, is two major hospitals,” he said. Boston has eight.
Josh Frances, director of emergency management for Maine Medical Center in Portland, said local hospitals do train, not for an attack like this specifically, but for a major disaster with a similar number of injured people, such as a plane crash at the jetport.

“We can’t think of every possible scenario, but surely blast injuries associated with mass gatherings is something we always think about,” Frances said.

Portland hospitals exchange information with the Boston Medical Intelligence Center, not only about epidemiology, but threats to health care facilities, he said.

“The important thing to stress is in the post-9/11 world we live in, ... now we have an extremely tight-knit group of professionals sharing vital critical information very fast,” Frances said. “Just after this coordinated attack occurred, I was in contact with senior leaders from the state homeland security division and the director of our critical infrastructure protection program.”

Authorities say they are sharing intelligence and devising security measures better than they ever did, but their efforts are not foolproof.

“We’re vulnerable, no matter how you cut it,” said Googins. “I just don’t know at this point, as a police chief, what people would like to hear to make them feel better. I don’t feel better. I go to Boston all the time.”

Boston may be outside Maine, but so many people had friends at the marathon, and so many Mainers identify with Boston, the attacks feel very close to home.

“Crate and Barrel? My wife loves that place,” Googins said, referring to the popular store just a couple of doors down from one of the blast sites. “I’ve been in Boston twice in the past week, ... had lunch at the Copley Plaza,” which is near the marathon finish line.

Googins does draw some comfort from the absolute confidence he has that authorities will identify whoever is responsible.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

 

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