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O.C. Tests Post-9/11 Readiness

January 31, 2002|PHIL WILLON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emergency officials Wednesday said they will be notified "within minutes" if federal authorities uncover a threat of a terrorist attack in Orange County.

Sheriff Michael S. Carona also said the county's Emergency Operations Center has been activated several times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of perceived threats.

Carona talked with reporters during a daylong training exercise to prepare for an attack. More than 200 law enforcement, fire, health and other emergency personnel hunkered down in a remote hilltop bunker near Irvine Lake, practicing responses to a variety of terrorist threats on potential targets.

For security reasons, Carona declined to disclose specific scenarios. However, the results of the drill were reassuring, he said.

"We are safe. We are very safe," Carona said. "We're prepared to respond to any incident that may take place."

George V. Vinson, whom Gov. Gray Davis recently hired as his special advisor on state security, came to watch the exercise and brief local officials on the latest directives from the White House.

"The protection of all Californians rests in the hands of the sheriffs, the police chiefs, the fire chiefs, the emergency medical people on the ground in the geographical location," Vinson said. "Not at the bureaucratic federal level."

Vinson met with President Bush last week along with other state security chiefs, and he said Bush assured them that the federal government will do whatever it takes to protect the American public.

Vinson said the newly created federal Office of Homeland Security is developing a four-level warning system to alert state and local officials when terrorist threats surface--a major improvement over the bureaucratic protocol before the September attacks.

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