City takes active step to thwart terrorism

MANASSAS — If it had only been a few weeks earlier, Manassas police would have merely called the property owner to ask why two Middle Eastern men had surveying equipment set up next to Lake Manassas.

But the month was October. And the police weren’t ready to take any chances, turning the two men’s names over to the FBI. In the end, the police determined that the men were, in fact, surveyors.

Throughout the country, local public safety departments have been setting themselves up as the first line of defense against a terrorist act.

In Manassas, the city hopes to soon have an updated emergency response plan, with color codes, as well as a deputy police chief responsible for coordinating homeland security efforts.

The City Council is also set May 30 to approve a detailed application for a $1.5 million Federal Terrorism Preparedness Grant.

“Our ability to prevent terrorist attacks is almost nonexistent. All we can do is prepare to respond to terrorist attacks,” said Manassas police Capt. Don McKinnon, who has been leading the police department’s homeland security efforts.

Manassas top public safety officials came before the City Council on Wednesday night to present a draft of a color-coded emergency response chart, using the same green, blue, yellow, orange and red levels outlined by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security.

The Office of Homeland Security is trying out the color codes on a trial basis at the present time.

If the color codes are made permanent, Manassas is prepared to set in place the coded response plan, outlining how local public safety agencies, other government agencies and residents should respond to various levels of threats, according to McKinnon.

A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice also will allow the city to better prepare itself. One of the largest expenditures in the city’s grant application is $250,000 set aside to pay the salary of a deputy police chief for the next two years.

Other expenditures include $250,000 for the Manassas Volunteer Fire Co. to buy a new hazardous materials response vehicle. The Manassas Volunteer Rescue Squad hopes to buy a new $300,000 disaster management vehicle.

The grant proposal includes many small items for equipment ranging from Nextel cell phones to protective suits.

“Every word out of our mouth is terrorist this and terrorist that. But what this will really do is allow us to better respond to emergency events we see day in and day out,” McKinnon said.

Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703)368-3101, Ext. 119.

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