Terror alert spurs limited U response

But despite government advice to stockpile in case of an attack, most students remain nonchalant.

After putting the nation on high alert for terrorist attacks Friday, U.S. government officials recommended Monday that citizens not panic but consider stocking up on essential supplies.

Many University students and officials, however, are only heeding part of that advice – not panicking – even as the FBI warned Tuesday that colleges and universities might be on terrorists’ list of targets.

Agriculture senior Davin Jensen said he has no plans to stock up on duct tape or canned goods – two of the government’s recommended supplies.

“I think if there is a true threat, there’s really nothing I can do about it,” he said.

His reaction was similar to other students at Coffman Union on Wednesday.

Political science graduate student Lena Jones said around-the-clock, alarmist coverage on cable news networks is not helping the situation.

“It has the effect of making people feel extremely afraid and powerless,” she said. “You just have to live and act the way you’ve always lived and acted.”

Threat to universities

On Tuesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee that multiple small-scale attacks against “soft targets,” including colleges and universities, would be more feasible for terrorists to execute.

Interim Assistant Vice President for Public Safety George Aylward said the FBI briefed him Tuesday.

“We’re current on the information that they’re providing to law enforcement,” he said. “We have an understanding of what the feds at any rate think will be the most likely means of an attack.”

Aylward, who is also University police chief, said the current threat is somewhat specific but not in terms of targets.

“I think the targeting information about universities is as specific as it gets,” he said.

Aylward and other University public safety staff met Wednesday to discuss the new terrorism warnings. It was primarily a brainstorming session to “see if there are any fine tunings we should do,” he said.

They also outlined a plan with University Relations to get information out to the University community in case of an attack, he said.

Besides prompting the communication plan, Aylward said, the recent alert has not brought about operational changes, such as adding security at sporting events.

“We’re essentially at the same level we’ve always been at. We are at the highest level we can be at without going into overtime and other expenditures,” Aylward said.

Terrorism insurance

Terrorism preparation has cost the University money, however.

In November, the University upgraded its property insurance policy to cover terrorism damages up to $50 million.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, most insurance companies excluded terrorism damages from standard policies. When the University’s property insurance policy was renewed in July 2002, it no longer covered terrorism-related losses.

“There was no question but that we needed to provide coverage or protection on this type of issue,” University Controller Michael Volna said. “It was an issue of finding the most cost-effective coverage we could.”

Volna said the University solicited quotes from several insurance companies and in November decided to purchase a policy from Johnston, R.I.,-based FM Global to cover terrorism claims.

The new insurance cost $106,182, increasing the University’s total property insurance premium to more than $2.4 million per year.

There are still questions as to how the policy will be used, Volna said.

“We have no experience at this point with actually making (terrorism-related) claims,” he said. Because terrorism is fairly new in the United States, determining what terrorism is would likely be a difficult and drawn-out legal process, he said.

The FM Global policy defines terrorism as violent acts or threats intended to instill fear or express support for “any political, religious, social, ideological or similar type of objective or position.”

“The definition that’s provided would be the starting point in the event of a claim,” Volna said. “Obviously the insurance company and our general counsel’s office will be involved in resolving any disputes over whether or not something actually is considered terrorism.”

Supply sales steady

Though students on campus said they were not changing their routines or making special preparations in light of the new threats, some area hardware store managers said they noticed customers stocking up on duct tape, plastic sheeting and bottled water.

“It’s not frantically going out of here,” a Minneapolis Home Depot manager said. “But there’s been a noticed awareness in the last few days. We’ve seen more people with more of that stuff in their carts.”

A Menard’s manager also said he noticed more people buying the government-recommended supplies.

Representatives from other stores including Target, Ace Hardware and True Value locations, said the week has been business as usual.

“People are doing a lot of weather stripping anyway, so it’s hard to tell,” said Jim Green, manager of the Hi-Lake True Value.

Army surplus

Although the government’s recommendations did not include purchasing expensive items such as gas masks and chemical suits, at least one retailer said sales are up.

Mark Jamavaras, an employee at General J’s Military Surplus in Minneapolis, said sales have doubled since the alert.

Jamavaras said the store has received calls from as far away as New York and Wisconsin, asking about the availability of protective equipment.

Jamavaras said a group from northeastern Minnesota purchased enough gas masks, chemical suits and gloves for 24 people.

“They’re worried about the war. People come in and buy for the whole family,” Jamavaras said.

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