ALBANY — Public-safety experts warned this week that smaller communities, even in remote corners of the state, must be vigilant to threats similar to the homemade bombs left in Manhattan and northern New Jersey over the weekend.

Police in smaller cities and small towns must take caution to protect places that could capture the interest of "lone wolf" terrorists, who are inspired by international groups but act alone.

Their targets may include schools, electrical transmission lines, reservoirs that supply New York City with drinking water or anyplace where people gather, such as county fairs, said Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond.

"It's only a matter of time before we see this sort of thing here," he said.

 

HIGH THREAT

Law enforcement and others noted New York has plenty of potential targets outside of Manhattan.

For example, the federal government labels the Buffalo-Niagara region as a "high-threat target area," said U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Erie County), the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

"That's a list you don't want to be on," he said.

The region's attractions draw millions of visitors each year, including to Niagara Falls and the Peace Bridge, the most heavily traveled footbridge on the U.S./Canada border, Higgins said.

The region is also home to key infrastructure, such as the Niagara Power Project, the hydroelectric power station above the falls.

Higgins noted the Buffalo-Niagara region was mentioned as vulnerable in a 2014 edition of Inspire magazine, which is reportedly linked to al Qaida.

"What we have to do is ensure the resources are here so we can push back on that," he said.

 

TROOPERS DISPATCHED

While the threat of terrorism isn't new, police and state officials were again reckoning with it early this week, amid an investigation into two pressure-cooker bombs placed in Manhattan, a collection of pipe bombs found in Elizabeth, N.J., and a bomb that exploded on the course of a road race Saturday on the Jersey Shore.

Police arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami after a shootout Monday morning.

The bombings, including an explosion that injured more than two dozen people in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, may not have directly affected upstate communities, but their impact was still noticeable.

Hundreds of troopers from throughout the state were dispatched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend to assist police in New York City.

DuMond noted fewer officers were available elsewhere in the state, but he added that he was not criticizing the decision.

"At a time when our police resources here are already stretched so thin, this does leave us more vulnerable," he said.

 

RURAL TARGETS

While last weekend's bombs exploded or were planted in densely populated areas, terrorism experts said preparation must involve law enforcement in both large and small communities.

"Violence and terrorism have occurred in lots of different rural areas of the United States, and all jurisdictions have to be in a position to respond and try to prevent these incidents," said David Rousseau, interim dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the State University at Albany.

DuMond said he recently attended a seminar at a Federal Emergency Management Agency preparedness center in Alabama, where counter-terrorism experts stressed the need for police in small towns to have plans for bomb threats, hostage takings and other emergencies.

His office is now forming a joint tactical team that will be able to respond swiftly to threats, he said.

"We know the threat is very real here in rural America, and we need to invest in the equipment to protect ourselves," he said.

 

TRAINING

Peter Kehoe, director of the New York State Sheriffs Association, said the group regularly organizes training sessions on counterterrorism for members.

"It's become a component of every training we do now," he said, noting that police officials may now fine-tune their own plans based on lessons gleaned from last weekend's bombings.

Kehoe said terrorists who don't target areas in upstate New York may look there for hideouts.

Police throughout the state are being trained to follow up on reports of "unusual activity," he said.

Just last week, more than 100 police bomb technicians, canine handlers, emergency medical service providers and tactical team officers trained in Oriskany, with exercises simulating terror incidents in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, Calif.

The FBI, State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and Peel Regional Police from Ontario, Canada, were among agencies that participated.

 

CHATEAUGAY PRACTICE

And today, State Police will host a full-scale active-shooter and mass-casualty exercise at the former Chateaugay Correctional Facility.

"As part of the exercise, several law enforcement agencies and emergency service personnel will be participating in order to create a realistic scenario that allows participants to practice a response," State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Trooper Jennifer Fleishman said in a press release.

State Police Capt. John H. Tibbitts Jr., acting Troop B commander, said in a statement to the Press-Republican that months of planning have gone into this exercise, "so it is not in response to the recent terrorism. 

"We do these active shooter exercises often in our troop and around the state," he said.

The exercise, which will involve various types of emergency vehicles and aviation in the area around the prison, is closed to the public.

 

INFORMATION KEY

Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot said it is important for locals to be hyper-vigilant and to report anything suspicious.

"You don't know what you don't know," he said. "Information is key in these types of investigations."

Training for domestic terrorism is always ongoing, and preparation incorporates lessons learned by responders who have dealt with these threats, Racicot said.

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro spoke about the strong local counterterrorism partnerships and his department's participation in Operation Stonegarden. That effort "supports enhanced cooperation and coordination among Customs and Border Protection, United States Border Patrol and local, tribal, territorial, state and federal law enforcement agencies" to secure U.S. international borders, according to the Homeland Security Grants website.

"I can't emphasize enough the importance of communication with all of the community partners," Favro said. "That is our strongest resistance."

BE PREPARED

Favro believes it is more likely that terrorists would pass through Clinton County than stage an attack here.

But any incident in the area, located so close to Canada, would most likely occur in the City of Plattsburgh, Racicot said, where government buildings, the hospital and factories are located.

"That's not to mean the Town of Plattsburgh or other areas are not at risk," he said, and it is important for everyone to remain vigilant.

"We're in a new world where we're going to have to deal with these events on a regular basis," Rousseau said.

"They (terrorists) will look for places where they can set up operations and not be seen," he added.

"For some people, that is more easily done in cities, and for others it would be rural areas. So I think all areas have to be prepared."

 

Email Cara Chapman:

cchapman@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @PPRcarachapman 

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