Germ attack policy is set

Suspicious material from around Ohio, including from Mahoning County, has been tested.
AUSTINTOWN -- The Youngstown-Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency has developed a procedure for local emergency agencies to deal with biological weapons sent through the mail.
The procedure, which was recently sent to emergency agencies in Mahoning County, calls for police and fire dispatchers to work with a caller to determine if a letter could contain a biological weapon. Callers should check the letter for excessive postage, misspellings of common words, excessive weight, oily stains or discolorations, or protruding wires, according to the procedure.
If the letter appears to be threatening, the dispatcher should advise the caller to put it down and leave the area until emergency responders arrive. The caller also should wash his hands with soap and warm water.
Next step: Emergency officials who determine that the letter poses a credible threat should contact the FBI, Emergency Management Agency and local health departments. The officials should clear the area and store the letter in a secure and remote location.
The officials should call the Ohio Department of Health to have the letter tested.
Rick Setty, the director of environmental health for the Mahoning County Board of Health, said that 419 samples of suspicious material from around Ohio have been tested since Sept. 11. That includes 12 items from Mahoning County.
Each of the 419 items has tested negative for biological weapons, Setty said.
"That's a little bit of good news," he said.
Setty and other local emergency officials discussed the procedure this morning during a meeting of the Youngstown-Mahoning County EMA's Weapons of Mass Destruction working group. The meeting was held at Lucianno's Restaurant in Austintown.
About 30 local officials attended the meeting, including area chaplains and funeral directors and representatives from local hospitals, fire and police departments.
Protecting Valley: Walter Duzzny, director of the Youngstown-Mahoning County EMA, said the group was formed two years ago to address an increased threat from weapons of mass destruction. During this morning's meeting, he talked about steps local emergency officials are taking to protect Mahoning Valley residents from such an attack.
Duzzny said the EMA is working with Cboss Community Network of Boardman to obtain a computer program that would provide local officials and the public with information in the event of an emergency. He also said that he has recently talked with officials of local utilities to determine how to improve protection of those utilities.
Col. Charles Coleman of the Ohio National Guard added that he is helping to coordinate statewide efforts to create a list of important utilities and other assets in the state. The Guard will use that list to determine how to strengthen security around those assets.
Coleman, of Canfield, noted that a similar list developed in the early 1980s included 181 "key assets."