ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles announced a nearly $100 million initiative Monday to better prepare Alaska for a possible terrorist attack.
The governor, speaking before the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce during a tribute to Alaska veterans, said the initiative would improve the state's ability to detect and respond to biological and chemical terrorism.
The initiative calls for creating an Alaska Office of Homeland Security to be led by Major Gen. Phillip Oates, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The office will coordinate state efforts with federal and local agencies.
The governor estimates that the initiative through fiscal year 2003 will cost $43 million in state funds, $40 million in federal funds and $16 million in other funds.
Knowles said he will send an appropriation bill to the Legislature this week in hopes that hearings on the bill could be held prior to the start of the session Jan. 14. The governor wants action taken on the bill in the first two weeks.
''Make no mistake -- America is at war,'' Knowles told the room full of veterans. ''I can't emphasize enough the urgency of action on this critical measure for the safety of our state.''
Knowles acknowledged that the availability of federal funds is uncertain. He said it could come in the form of supplemental federal agency budgets, existing grant programs, a national economic stimulus package or next year's federal budget.
The initiative stems from the governor's Disaster Policy Cabinet, chaired by Oates, which began meeting about two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Members evaluated the vulnerability of some of Alaska's key assets, including the trans-Alaska pipeline, the port of Valdez and military installations.
The initiative calls for the development of a state plan for detecting and responding to biological terrorism. The five-point plan would improve the security of Alaska's communications, transportation and public utilities systems. It also would improve the state's ability to respond to a terrorist attack.
Under the plan, nearly 70 state troopers and 20 village public safety officers would be hired, 20 part-time firefighters would be added to urban areas and the Alaska Land Mobile Radio System updated so that federal, state and local agencies could communicate with each other during an emergency.
Decontamination trailers would be pre-positioned in six cities, a contractor would be hired to develop bioterrorism drills and a medical plan would be established to transport mass casualties.
The plan calls for park rangers to provide full-time security for the watershed in Chugach State Park, security cameras to be installed at Whittier and Seward docks, and decontamination equipment brought to the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Training and equipment would be provided to HazMat teams in Juneau, Valdez and Fairbanks; triage kits supplied for emergency medical providers and public health nurses hired.
''There is an increased price of freedom in this new era of terrorism,'' Knowles said.
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