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Sept. 11: One year after

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How safe are we a year after Sept. 11? Experts say to continue being vigilant

By Robert Tanner, Associated Press

In the past year, jets have been transformed into missiles while a virus has been used as a poison and shipped through the mail.

While much has been done to guard against another attack since Sept. 11, security experts say one certainty is that terrorists will try again.

The question on many Americans' minds is: How safe are we? For any individual American, experts say, the answer is you face little personal threat. But the nation, though safer than it was a year ago, remains extremely vulnerable.

Just list the ways an attack could occur: a lone gunman with automatic weapons, a trio of suicide bombers in a crowded airport, a chemical attack spread in a mall's ventilation system, a dirty bomb of leftover radiological material slipped onto a commercial cargo ship, a group of suicide bioterrorists who sicken themselves with smallpox and wander through several cities, a stolen nuclear warhead detonated at a downtown dock.

"If Sept. 11 demonstrated anything, it's that it is illusory that we can wrap ourselves in a security blanket," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at the nonprofit Rand Corp., and a consultant to the federal government.

"Terrorism, and particularly that of al-Qaida, is the archetypal shark in the water that has to keep moving forward to stay alive."

Yet experts note that the danger to any one person must be kept in perspective -- auto accidents killed 41,821 people in 2000 while last year's anthrax attacks killed five.

"You accept certain risks," said Jerome Hauer, who oversaw emergency management in New York and now heads the Public Health Preparedness Office for the federal Health and Human Services Department.

"There's a similar risk when you get in the car in the morning. You assume that the tractor trailer driver will drive safely, that the drunk driver won't hit you head on."

And there are ways to cut the odds.

U.S. Customs officers are headed overseas to check cargo containers as they're loaded in Singapore; local police and FBI are sharing more information about threats and suspects; hospitals and public health departments are tracking diseases for potential bioterror attacks; new laws require traders and bankers to more thoroughly track the people behind the money.

The changes aren't only in big cities. In Utah's rural Iron County, with a small airport in the desert, a new mindset has taken root.

"Now, I recognize that once you're through security in a little tiny airport, you have access to any airport in the world," said Sheriff Dude Benson, whose county has 35,000 people scattered over 3,300 square miles.

From police on the streets to those who train emergency responders, there's greater attention to little details that could be a tipoff.

"It's something my officers think about every day," said Detective Gary McLhinney in Baltimore. "That car stop with the tag light being out. Take it a step farther and see who's in that car, make sure the license checks out.

"They understand that if something's going to be averted, it's going to be because a street cop is going to stumble on it."

Before Sept. 11, teaching medical professionals and emergency responders about the threats of chemical and biological warfare, Dr. David Franz said he often saw two responses -- apathy or panic.

Now, "I see common-sense questions and concerns, and `How can we deal with this?' and `We're going to do it.' Education has done a lot already," said Franz, a professor, a former Army colonel at Fort Detrick and a weapons inspector in Iraq and Russia.

The awareness of a threat isn't just on the front lines. A poll conducted for The Associated Press by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa., found 63 percent of people felt another terrorist attack was very or somewhat likely.

Betty Schuster, a retired high school history teacher in Waterford, Mich., doesn't think all the police and FBI agents and customs guards can ultimately stop a terrorist from killing more Americans. She's angry and a bit scared, but she doesn't lose sleep or stop flying. She's found a balance.

"I really do feel safe," she said.

She stays alert when she travels, while out shopping, in her neighborhood. But she worries -- just like the experts working on this every day -- about the nation letting its guard down.

Said Hauer: "We forget that groups like al-Qaida are very patient. The sad thing is, I think we will have another event. And that will stem the tide of complacency."

On the Net:

Institute for Homeland Security

White House office of Homeland Security:

Some of the major changes beefing up U.S. security in the wake of Sept. 11:

AIRPORTS: Congress has set a year-end deadline for all airline luggage to be screened for explosives, and the new Transportation Security Administration is to hire an all-federal work force at all but five of the nation's airports. Travelers face more intensive screening, including luggage searches and removal of hats and shoes before entering the gate area.

BORDERS, COAST: Hundreds of National Guardsmen are helping customs and immigration officials at the borders with Canada and Mexico. Customs officials are working with eight foreign ports to screen cargo before it arrives in the United States.

HOMELAND SECURITY: Legislation signed in October gave federal agents broad new powers to detain immigrants, eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mails, and share sensitive details of criminal investigations with the CIA. The proposal for a new homeland security department is still before Congress.

PUBLIC HEALTH: The federal government has stepped up programs to improve public health systems and hospitals, focusing on training doctors and emergency response workers, improving communications and equipment, and tracking outbreaks of disease.

Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001



Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.


Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.


Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.


Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.


For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.


A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.


Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?


Two cities
New York and DC one year later.


America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement

From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief

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