ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The travel industry is particularly vulnerable as far as terrorism is concerned, terrorism expert Peter Tarlow told a tourism group this week.
Despite last month's attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, security in the leisure and travel industry remains far too lax, Tarlow said Wednesday at the Alaska Travel Industry Association convention in Anchorage.
The cruise ship industry is a ''sitting duck,'' said Tarlow, a sociologist and rabbi at Texas A&M University. Tarlow trains the FBI and police chiefs around the country on how to combat terrorism, with a focus on tourism.
On his journey from Texas to Alaska, airport security guards failed to ask him about a razor blade in his carry-on luggage. And when he walked into the Egan Center on Wednesday with a briefcase, he could have been carrying a bomb, he said. But no one was there to check.
''What would it do to the Alaska tourism industry if a bomb went off in this room?'' he asked. ''Did anyone take the time to go through the ventilation system and make sure no one could put biological or chemical agents in it?''
A nervous silence descended on the room before someone spoke up and mentioned how disturbing the questions were. Tarlow said he didn't want to scare anyone but that it's time to wake up.
It makes sense for terrorists to attack small towns as well as cities because their strategy is to make Americans feel as if there's no place to hide, Tarlow said.
The Egan Center anticipates strengthening its security in terms of policies, procedures and training in light of current threats, building manager Greg Spears said.
Tourism is a likely target for terrorists because visitors tend to let their guards down and it's generally thought of as a safe industry. By attacking tourism, perpetrators can hit two targets simultaneously: the transportation system and the economy, Tarlow said.
If terrorists go after tourism in Alaska, cruise ships are especially vulnerable because of the large volume of people they move and inadequate security measures, according to Tarlow. He said all luggage should be screened and passengers carefully checked.
The ships should be under constant electronic surveillance and there needs to be better coordination among the cruise lines and ports, municipalities, law enforcement and federal agencies as far as counter-terrorism measures, Tarlow said.
Cruise West screens 50 percent of all baggage that gets loaded on its eight ships that sail Alaska waters, said Maureen Camadona, director of corporate communications for the Seattle-based line. The company owns smaller ships with a maximum of 114 passengers each, unlike the foreign-flagged lines that average 2000 passengers.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, cruise lines have operated at the highest level of security, according to the International Council of Cruise Lines.
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