Visit Montpelier, Vt., population 8,400, and there is no mistaking this is the smallest state capital in the country. One of the largest government buildings is a former inn. Many other agencies are housed in equally unpretentious structures, some even in humble wood homes that flank tree-lined State Street, a modest road that bends along the banks of the Winooski River. Even the capitol building - gold-domed and built from marble - looks like it would fit comfortably inside most other state capitols.
It's a beautiful setting for government in a rural state. And, until recently, the biggest news story out of Montpelier was the fact that long-time Gov. Howard Dean had announced he would not seek re-election in 2002. But all that changed after Sept. 11.
Following the terrorist attacks by jets in the air and anthrax on the ground, Vermont, which shares a border with Canada, suddenly realized it was as vulnerable as New York City and Washington, D.C. The sense of rural safety evaporated and the state found itself confronting some of the same issues faced by other states closer to the sites of the attacks.
Despite the lack of any credible threat against the state, Vermont's emergency management officials have been meeting with other state and federal agencies to improve security at potential targets, such as the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. State Police are using their new call center to track suspicious incidents. The state is also looking to beef up its computer crime laws, according to Bob West, Vermont's assistant chief information officer.
States Reel from Terrorism
States everywhere are scrambling to reset priorities and face grim, new realities in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Security, whether against rogue airplanes, biological threats or cyber terrorism, has taken on a new urgency. Two years ago, the Justice Department set aside $150 million to help states purchase equipment for civil emergencies. Before Sept. 11, only one state had applied for its share of the funds, according to the Los Angeles Times. Today, states are rushing to get their hands on the money.
While the funds will prove valuable, they are just a drop in the bucket of what states need if they are to fully fund their anti-terrorism programs. For example, Iowa has reported that bringing its emergency responders, doctors, nurses, hospitals, rural clinics, laboratories, communications and computer systems up to strength in the battle against terrorism would cost at least $11 million, according to Stateline.org.
Not every state has come forward with specific numbers like Iowa. But state governments are reviewing a variety of security plans and policies. For instance, Connecticut began developing procedures for issuing state identification cards within a few weeks of the attacks, after prosecutors revealed that five suspected terrorists fraudulently obtained similar credentials from Virginia a month before they hijacked three passenger planes.
By October, Gov. John G. Rowland had asked the federal government to consider creating a special security zone in southeastern Connecticut to protect "key civilian and military assets," including a Navy submarine base and a nuclear power station.
As for the state of security surrounding Connecticut's computer technology systems, Rock Regan, chief information officer, said disaster recovery plans were under constant review, primarily because of the recent development of a new state data center. What worries Regan, however, is cyber terrorism. He pointed out that the newly created Office of Homeland Security has appointed a person to monitor cyber-security issues. "Look at the Nimda virus, which hit Sept. 18. The initial thoughts was that it was somehow related to terrorist attack of Sept. 11," he said. "There's never going to be proof to that, but I think we're going to see more things like Nimda that have a pretty broad impact."
Regan, who is president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said one of his first meetings