Local News

Easley Puts Power Behind State's Terrorism Task Force

Posted October 18, 2001 5:28 a.m. EDT

— One day after announcing tougher bioterrorism penalties in the state, Gov. Mike Easley introduced his terrorism preparedness task force Thursday.

The task force is made up of representatives from about a dozen state agencies, including the Highway Patrol, the National Guard and the State Bureau of Investigation.

The newly-formed group is charged with crafting a plan at the local level to focus on the state's preparedness and response levels concerning nuclear power plants, aviation, water quality and health care.

Putting more power behind the state's terrorism task force is "something that should have been dealt with years ago," said Easley.

Easley also said that North Carolina needs to be prepared to take care of itself.

"It's also important we train medical personnel so they know what to look for and how to respond. North Carolina needs to be prepared to take care of itself," he said.

Once the task force makes its recommendations to the state, the governor hopes to create a model plan that can be used in every county to prepare for or respond to terrorism if needed. The model will also be shared with 43 other states.

Easley believes the task ahead is getting the state back into a normal routine.

"As odd as it may sound, the targets of terrorists aren't buildings or towers or even the people who perished in the wake of their callous acts. The target is the spirit and attitudes of American people, and that is something that they cannot target unless we allow it to happen. And we are not going to allow it to happen in this state or in this nation," said Easley.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor announced legislation that creates a new category of penalties for the use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

"I'm not satisfied the current law properly addresses biological or chemical weapons with the specificity necessary or the punishment necessary. This bill aims to do that in North Carolina," he said.

The bill calls for a penalty of 20 years to life without parole for anyone who manufactures, possesses or purchases these weapons.

Anyone who knowingly makes a false report involving such weapons could serve up to 10 years in prison. Hoaxes involving fake chemical or biological agents could also draw the same sentence.

Deborah Ross, of The American Civil Liberties Union, says a penalty of death will not stop a terrorist.

"The death penalty is not a deterrent for somebody who is willing to kill themselves during an act of terrorism," she said.

Meanwhile, officials in the Easley administration said that the recent anthrax scares across the country have prompted them to re-examine already tight mail-handling procedures.

Spokesman Fred Hartmen said that there are a number security measures in place regarding the handling of mail. He said security measures were in place before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Hartman declined to discuss specifics about how the governor's mail is handled.

No anthrax has been found in North Carolina, but scares have been reported.


General Assembly

now has a new plan to handle its mail. Effective immediately, mail determined to be questionable will be placed in a clear plastic bag and set aside for the recipient. The General Assembly has also stocked its supply room with rubber gloves for people who want to use them.

Meanwhile, last month's terrorist attacks prompted increased security at a number of state government buildings in Raleigh, including the old Capitol that houses Easley's office and the Legislative Building.