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Poll: Minnesotans unsure about state's ability to cope with terrorism
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
October 16, 2001

A new poll shows most Minnesotans have doubts or are unsure about the state's ability to respond to a potential terrorist attack. The survey, conducted for Minnesota Public Radio, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and KARE-11 TV, shows just over a third are confident the state is well-prepared to deal with an attack in Minnesota. The poll results come just as federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are seeking to reassure lawmakers and the public that the state is primed for action if necessary.

See complete poll results.
The poll, which was conducted late last week, shows 35 percent of respondents feel the state is unprepared to deal with the new international climate and the potential for terrorist attack. Another 31 percent said they're unsure about the state's preparedness. That leaves just over a third who feel comfortable about state precautions.

State Public Safety commissioner Charlie Weaver says he doesn't find the results particularly surprising. "When you're asked, 'Are we prepared to respond,' you're probably thinking of two big jets going into the IDS building. And no one could be prepared for that. So I want to just reassure Minnesotans that to the extent we can, we are ahead of most other states in both the preparation and identifying potential terrorist groups and the ability to respond," Weaver said Monday.

Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver told a legislative committee that much of the planning and preparation against terrorism occurs outside of public view, perhaps leading some to deduce little is being done.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Weaver says much of the planning and preparation occurs outside of public view, perhaps leading some to deduce little is being done.

The poll contacted 625 registered voters across the state. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Weaver joined other law enforcement officials during a House hearing on the state's readiness to prevent and respond to a terrorist attack. He stressed to lawmakers that Minnesotans have little reason to fear a terrorist strike. "There continues to be zero - zero - credible evidence of any threat in Minnesota from any organization. We can't say that enough. You, as leaders, as policy-makers, as opinion leaders in your own communities, need to keep saying that. Otherwise the cycle of fear will continue to expand," Weaver said.

During the hearing, Weaver and others fielded questions about the safety of the state's most visible targets, including the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and nuclear power plants. Law enforcement officials said they're confident the proper precautions have been taken. But they warn the extra security comes with a price.

Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan testified on behalf of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, established long before the September 11th attacks. McGowan says preparation can be costly, but not as costly as being caught by surprise.

"Terrorism is not something we should be thinking about for six months, because it's a hot topic right now and then think we can forget about it. It's got to be ongoing. We've got to be vigilant. And it is not a short-term sprint," he said.

McGowan and others called for additional spending from the state and federal governments to bolster law enforcement and strengthen response teams. U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger assured lawmakers that in their efforts to locate and defuse potential threats, investigators would preserve constitutional liberties. And he says that's particularly important when approaching Arab- or Muslim-Americans.

"It's a matter of national security, quite frankly, that we do so. Because to the extent that Muslim people in this country are traumatized, we are only giving aid to enemies who would like the world to believe that this is a war against Islam. When in fact it is not. It's a war against bad people," he said.

Thirty-seven percent of poll respondents acknowledge being more suspicious of foreigners - particulary Arabs - following the September 11th attacks.