Sheriff highlights terrorism concerns
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, before the 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shootings, domestic terrorism was unthinkable in America.
Published: December 20, 2012
Published: December 20, 2012
Now, a mass killing occurs about every two weeks.
It should come as no shock then that Sheriff Susan Benton identified Sebring International Raceway as a potential attack site.
"The raceway has been designated a vulnerable site," Benton told Highlands County commissioners on Tuesday. More than 100,000 people gather on race day.
Several Florida counties fit the criteria, Benton said Wednesday, because they have nuclear power plants or events that attract large crowds. Disney World, colleges and professional sporting events are examples.
Twelve Hours of Sebring is an annual event with worldwide media coverage. That's why Benton applied for and received a $185,000 Department of Homeland Security grant to buy a mobile observation tower that can be used at high-attendance events in Highlands and surrounding counties.
In addition, the grant application said, Highlands County is defended by a Special Weapons and Tactics Team including snipers, grenadiers and members trained in clandestine labs and breaching explosives.
"Our team is in a position to support and protect other responders in the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive field," the grant application said.
Although the raceway is the only federally designated site, the sheriff's office also protects Highlands County courthouse with armed threshold guards and bailiffs in the courtrooms.
The courthouse has exterior barriers, although they don't prevent the approach of a vehicle like the explosives-laden truck in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Barriers were recently installed at Highlands County Government Center, but both merely keep motorists from driving directly to the courthouse steps.
"That actually happened to us at the courthouse," said Facilities Director David Flowers. A woman saw a gradual wheelchair ramp and assumed cars could drive there.
After the courthouse annex was added, workers used the old courthouse steps at the rear entry for benches along the front sidewalk.
"That's not just aesthetic; it's an additional security measure, but I'd stop short of calling it an anti-terrorism barrier," Flowers said.
The sheriff's office also protects educational campuses. "We have an ongoing protocol for our schools. We have security in our schools every day."
"You can't put a price tag on fear," Benton told the commissioners on Tuesday, one weekend after the Sandy Hook Elementary attack in Connecticut. "A lot of people were really fearful about taking their kids to school on Monday. I just wanted you to know we're working on that."
firstname.lastname@example.org (863) 386-5828