Long before Tuesday's devastation in New York and Washington, D.C., Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin started taking steps to head off the threat of terrorist attacks.
In November, Carlin dispatched four Emergency Response Team officers -- Lts. Laurel Sheehan, David LeGault and Thomas Prucnal and Officer Bryan DalPorto -- to three weeklong classes on responding to everything from chemical and biological weapons attacks to detecting terrorist plots and hunting down suspects before they carry out their plans.
"The courses were the toughest and most rigorous I've ever taken," Sheehan said.
Carlin, who also serves as a criminal investigator in the Air Force Reserve, said he decided to initiate the training because terrorists worldwide "were shifting their attention from the military targets they were focusing on in the 1980s and early 1990s to more civilian targets." He cited as examples the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Because Niagara Falls is a high-profile area with the Niagara Power Project's hydroelectric plant nearby, terrorists are a potential threat here, Carlin said.
He said the response team officers, who are certified instructors in handling incidents involving weapons of mass destruction, will train the rest of the officers in how to respond to these incidents and use their contacts to detect potential terrorist situations.
DalPorto and Prucnal said they have already taught a class on anti-terrorism to 26 new police officers who recently graduated from the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy at Niagara County Community College. Nine new city police officers were entered in that class.
LeGault said that in a terrorist attack, emergency response teams would coordinate police and fire efforts and also that of utility companies, hospitals and other agencies.
While it's not possible to fully anticipate terrorist acts, Carlin said, it is important "to train and be vigilant."
Sheehan noted one course was devoted to bombs so that officers would understand their capability for destruction. There were letter bombs, pipe bombs, plastic explosives and even fertilizer bombs, such as the one used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
"They put a 200-pound (fertilizer) bomb in a car about 40 feet away from a house, moved us a half-mile away from the scene and set it off," LeGault said. "The only thing left was a motor block and a piece of bumper. The house was leveled."
Sheehan said instructors set off a letter bomb in an office setting with a desk, a computer and a lifelike dummy seated in a chair.
"When they blew it up, it tore the desk apart, destroyed the computer and shredded the upper parts of the dummy's body, the parts that will kill you," Sheehan said. "They put on these demonstrations to show us how powerful these weapons are. It taught us not to misjudge them and what needs to be done to keep people safe."
Sheehan said the instructors employ a frightening slogan: "If you can see the bomb, the bomb can see you."
The bomb school was held in Arizona. The chemical and biological weapons school and the incident command school were held in Louisiana. The courses were financed by the U.S. Department of Justice.