Small towns should not assume they are immune to terrorismIf it weren't for the constant barrage of television reports broadcasting blow by blow the events that are unfolding in the Middle East, residents of Northeast Oregon might be completely oblivious to the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror in Afghanistan and around the globe.

These conflicts seem like they are a world away from the quiet, pastoral setting of the Wallowa Valley. The farther away the better, as far as most people are concerned.

Americans used to think that U.S. soil was immune to attack by our enemies. Not only did we have the most powerful military on the face of the earth, we were protected by sheer distance - the Atlantic ocean on our eastern seaboard, the Pacific on the west, our friends the Canadians to the north, and Mexico to the south.

We now know better as a result of the events of 9-11. That national tragedy taught us that no community is immune to the threat of terrorism.

Statistically, the odds of a terrorist hit out here in the boondocks of Oregon are remote. Terrorists tend to focus on high profile targets in densely population areas to achieve maximum shock value. After all, the primary objective of terrorism is to scare as many people as possible.

Does that mean that terrorists will never hit a small town like Enterprise, Joseph, or Wallowa. Of course not. Though it is unlikely it is not impossible. In some perverse sense, terrorists could frighten people in small towns all over America by carrying out a hit in any one of them. Many small towns are sitting ducks for a terrorist attack because they are less sophisticated and more open than their urban counterparts.

How many people in Wallowa County do not lock their doors at night because they assume this community is "safe?" Who doesn't lock their car? How easy would it be for a gunman to walk into one of our schools?

Members of the site council at Joseph elementary school were recently shocked when they learned that the school has no lock-down procedure to protect children and staff against unwanted intruders, no emergency rations for a prolonged stay in the building. We fear that lack of preparedness is all too common in Wallowa County and small towns across the country.

Times have changed, and lack of disaster preparedness could come back to haunt us someday.

There may not be a lot we can do to change the situation in the Middle East, other than supporting our service men and women who are fighting for freedom in that region. But there are some things we can do at home to shore up our defenses against human and man-made disasters. Certainly schools and all public institutions should re-evaluate their plans, procedures, and preparedness. R.S.

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