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Terror preparations in the heartland
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Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Rich Staneck says he wants Minnesotans to feel secure but he also says it's wrong to assume the state is somehow immune from terrorism because of its location. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security have been canvassing the nation urging Americans everywhere to take precautions in preparation for possible terrorist attacks. The message is simple; stockpile a few days worth of food, medicine and water and make a emergency plan. But most Americans are not following the government recommendations.

St. Paul, Minn. — Businesses like the American Surplus store in Minneapolis can bank on an uptick in sales whenever there's heightened concern about terrorism in the United States.

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Image Lisa Berg is the manager of American Surplus Store in Minneapolis

"People are scared of what's going to happen and what can happen to us here in Minneapolis," says Lisa Berg, manager of American Surplus. "I mean we're not a small city. We're a large city and they're just taking precautions for anything that can actually happen."

The family business has been selling military and outdoor gear in downtown Minneapolis for 80 years. Berg says the store sells about everything anybody would need to survive in the woods or to weather a biological or chemical attack.

"Which is a gas mask, a hood for the gas mask, a chemical suit, rubber gloves that go with the chemical suit and rubber boots that go with the chemical suit," Berg said.

Berg says a good starter kit should also include water purification tablets and vacuum sealed, ready to eat military meals know as MREs. The last time the terror alert climbed to high risk -- orange level -- Berg says American Surplus sold a few hundred gas masks and chemical suits.

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Image Lindstrom Resident Rusty Johnson

Even so, Midwesterners aren't lining up for survival gear and stripping store shelves like people in other parts of the country.

A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found most Americans, about three out of four, have so far chosen not to ready themselves per the government's recommendations.

In the town of Lindstrom, an hour northeast of the Twin Cities, the Swedish Inn is a good place to strike up a conversation about preparedness for terrorism. Rusty Johnson has lived in Lindstrom all of his life.

"I don't think Lindstrom, Minnesota is much of a target for terrorism," Johnson said.

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Image Kim Colliflower lives in rural Montana

Like most of the people eating at the Swedish Inn, Johnson has neither spent time working on an disaster plan, nor has he put together a special supply of emergency provisions. "I think we're pretty safe here. We're kind of in the middle of the country and surrounded by other states. I think we're pretty safe."

Across the dining room an older man named Joe chalks up the government's terror preparation advice as a ploy to boost sales of stuff like plastic sheeting and duct tape.

"It's like the bomb shelters. If the bomb was going to hit you there you'd get it anyway. You couldn't prevent it. You'd have to come out sometime or another," Joe said.

Visiting Lindstrom from his home in rural Montana, Kim Colliflower says he isn't putting away supplies either. Like the others, Colliflower is convinced terrorists will not target America's heartland and, instead, will attempt attacks in the nation's largest cities.

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Image Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Michael Brown

"I'd be really worried if I lived in a big city. See these terrorists or whoever they are, they're going to hit a major population center. Wherever there's major people congregating -- that's where they're going to try to take out as many as they can," Colliflower said.

But officials with the Bush administration are trying hard to counter the notion only Americans in big coastal cities need to heed terrorism warnings.

"I would say at one time everyone thought that Oklahoma City, OK., was a safe place and we saw in 1995 that terrorism can hit the heartland as it did in Oklahoma City," says Michael Brown, the Department of Homeland Security's Undersecretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

I don't think Lindstrom Minnesota is much of a target for terrorism.
- Rusty Johnson

As part of the Bush administration's "READY" campaign, Brown is visiting states across the country promoting preparedness.

At a recent stop in Minnesota, Brown linked good citizenship to government recommended disaster preparations. Initially ridicule followed the government's advice that people stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting. Now the Department is selling its message with a seemingly, more common sense approach: treat the potential for terrorism as you would the potential for natural disaster.

"We've got to get the country to start focusing on preparedness. As I've said every place I go, we hope and pray there's not another terrorist attack but I promise you, I can promise you there will be another earthquake, another hurricane, another blizzard another tornado, another flood somewhere, another chemical truck that has a wreck somewhere out on the interstate and so those things will continue to happen and we've got to get people prepared for that," said Brown.

Minnesota's Public Safety Commissioner Rich Stanek says he wants Minnesotans to feel secure. But he also says it's wrong to assume the state is somehow immune from terrorism because of its location.

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Image Lindstrom Police Chief Kevin Stenson

"It was not too long ago, I'm going to remind folks, that Mr. Moussaoui was here in Minnesota -- in Eagan, a suburb not unlike Lindstrom or Duluth or Kandiyohi County, yet all evidence points to he being the 20th highjacker from that fateful day on September 11th," Stanek said.

Lindstrom Police Chief Kevin Stenson applauds the government's new preparedness message. But he doesn't expect people will do what they're being asked to do unless they perceive a direct threat.

"I don't know that there's going to be definite way to convince people in small town America to do that unless they've been impacted by something personally. I hate to say it, but isn't that the American way: you know we're not going to worry about it until it happens to us or to someone that we know," Stenson said.

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