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Minnesota ready to respond to terrorism, officials insist
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 4, 2001
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State officials say Minnesota is prepared for the threat of terrorism, despite having as many as half of its workers on strike. They say the state has been preparing for the possibility of a terrorist attack for years, and those plans aren't compromised by Minnesota's largest state employee strike. Members of AFSCME and MAPE were originally set to strike the week after the September 11 attacks, but delayed the strike for two weeks.

Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver tells the story of "Bubba" Aguirre, who helped alert the FBI to a terrorism suspect. Ironically, Aguirre is now among the state employees on strike. Listen to Weaver's story.
Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver says while there have been NO threats of terrorism in Minnesota following the September 11 attacks on the East Coast, the state isn't taking any chances. He says his department has been preparing for a terrorist attack since 1998, and those plans are put into practice every time there's a bomb threat, tanker spill, or natural disaster.

He says the state relies on the cooperation of local officials and the private sector, who aren't affected by the state worker strike, and state agencies have backup plans to staff critical functions as long as the strike lasts.

"Although a strike is hard, I don't think any of us are going to come up here and tell you that the strike hasn't had an impact on us, and that it's not painful - it is- but it has not compromised our ability to respond to a terrorist event. And our response would be swift, would be coordinated and it's going to be effective," Weaver said.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says state agencies have been fine-tuning their preparedness plans since September 11. She says on the day of the attacks, her office tested its "health alert" network - designed to notify local agencies of health threats - and found nearly every one responded within an hour.

Malcolm says while citizens may be nervous about the possibility of bioterrorism, they shouldn't take unnecessary precautions. "We do not recommend that people get gas masks, seek vaccines or stock up on antibiotics. Sometimes those interventions actually can do more harm than good," Malcolm said.

State officials say the most important thing citizens can do is notify law enforcement if they see any suspicious activity. Weaver cited the example of Robert "Bubba" Aguirre, a driver's license examiner in Eagan. Aguirre became suspicious the week after the attacks when a man with a Syrian driver's license, who was getting flight training in Arizona, seemed in a big hurry to get a Minnesota driver's license.

Weaver says the FBI has questioned the man in connection with the attacks "and both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms called our agency afterwards and said, 'thank God for guys like Bubba.' That's the kind of citizen, smart actions, whether you're a state employee or you're just an average citizen, that it takes to defeat these terrorists," Weaver said.

Weaver said he wasn't sure if the man was arrested after questioning, and it wasn't immediately clear where the man is now. FBI officials wouldn't comment. Ironically, Bubba Aguirre is one of the workers on strike.

Other state officials sought to assure the public that Minnesota is prepared for any threats, noting that troopers are making more stops of trucks with hazardous materials and the state's two nuclear plants are on the highest alert status.

The commander of the Minnesota National Guard, Major General Eugene Andreotti, says pilots have been flying F-16s on patrol missions around the Twin Cities since September 11. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd be flying combat air patrol over Minneapolis-St. Paul. But we are, and we're going to do a great job, and if that makes sure our citizens are safe, that's what we want to do," Andreotti said.

Andreotti says more than 100 soldiers will begin providing security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday. He says if seeing armed Guard members at the airport makes people feel more secure, they should start flying again.