By Tim Eberly
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson watches the news and reads the paper. And he knows the people of Havre do too.
So before the fear of anthrax a possibly fatal bacteria that has been mailed to East Coast journalists and politicians spreads to Havre, Olson, Fire Chief Dave Sheppard, Hill County Sheriff Tim Solomon and representatives from Northern Montana Hospital and the Montana Highway Patrol met at the Hill County Courthouse on Wednesday to discuss response strategies in the event of an unlikely outbreak.
"We're all on the same page," Olson said. "We got together and talked about how we will respond to and investigate these types of threats."
Havreites should not be afraid, Olson said, because Hill County is not likely to attract the attention of terrorists.
"Overall risk assessment is that Havre is on the low end of the scale," Olson said today. "We don't foresee individuals being put at risk. As far as terrorists are concerned, there are not primary targets in Havre. But we also need to be aware of any biological threats."
Only one local citizen has reported a substance he erroneously believed to be anthrax. An elderly Havre resident called Friday after receiving a letter from a "nationally known food company," Olson said.
"There was a kind of white film on it," said Olson. "A lot of times, those companies will use a talcum powder to make sure the pages don't stick together."
This incident alone did not trigger Olson's meeting with other local authorities.
"We just knew it was something that we needed to get on board with," Olson said. "It's all reactionary after September 11."
Individuals who report possible exposure to anthrax will receive an immediate response. Testing for the bacteria will likely be performed at the Health and Human Services state lab in Helena.
"You will get a response from fire and ambulance services," Olson said. "The response will be low-key, one that isn't going to create a lot of panic and fear."
Individuals who create anthrax hoaxes will also receive an immediate response. "There is no humor level associated with this type of threat," Olson said. "They will be fully prosecuted by state and local authorities."
Because of their limited budgets, the departments involved will rely on state and federal resources in the event of a real emergency.
"Some of that equipment and some of that training just isn't practical for departments of our size," Olson said. "We're all on very limited budgets."
However, Fire Chief Sheppard said his ambulances and emergency response technicians are equipped to respond to and transport individuals fearing exposure to anthrax.