Operation Eagle County Shield
A month before the Sept. 11 attacks, Health and Human Services director Kathleen Forinash and other Eagle County health officials were working on a plan to be prepared for any possible outbreak of disease.Since then the threat of anthrax, smallpox, or other biological or chemical terrorist attacks has become more real. And as war escalates in the Middle East, that threat has become more urgent than at any other time since the fallout from Sept. 11.But Forinash says Eagle County health officials have come together with nine other surrounding counties to create a stronger response in the unlikely event of an attack in Colorado’s mountains.Federal funding has provided a regional planner and a regional epidemiologist as part of the homeland security plan. The epidemiologist, Forinash says, would help track the course and development of a disease in the case of an outbreak.”We’re not fearful in Eagle County because we know that the probability that Eagle County might be targeted is quite remote,” says Forinash. “However, we’re cautious and prudent. I think for anybody I don’t care what walk of life you come from the possibilities (of attack) are much more real and stand out in our minds more than they might have four months ago.”Forinash has been working intimately with county nurse Sarah Shipper, Eagle County Emergency Services coordinator Barry Smith, and other local authorities to ensure that Eagle County is ready for any kind of outbreak whether it’s part of a terrorist attack or not.With the West Nile virus and a new, unexplained respiratory disease possibly appearing in Colorado, Forinash says it’s a good idea to be prepared for any kind of outbreak.But the federal initiative to be prepared for terrorist attacks takes away time from local domestic health issues, she says.”One of the realities that we know of is that (preparing for terrorist attack) takes time away from the time that staff might be spending on looking at developing a community health clinic or making sure kids get dental care,” she says. “Out nurse manager is spending considerable time that might have been directed elsewhere, and that time is not being reimbursed.”But the hope, says Forinash, is that the federal initiative will improve the general health and human services infrastructure. Preparing for terrorist attack and adding an epidemiologist to the regional crew could improve the county’s ability to respond to all health issues.”That’s the hope,” Forinash says.And as Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi says, the national awareness of homeland security is helping to integrate emergency services throughout the county.How much of a target are we?In 1984, Dick Cleveland and Sheriff A.J. Johnson attended a training camp to prepare for the threat of terrorist attacks.Back then, Cleveland was an investigator for the Vail Police Department. Now he sits on the Vail Town Council.Many things have changed about the world situation since then, Cleveland says and so has the Town of Vail.But one thing remains true: high-profile people visit the valley and make the area a more probable target than other rural mountain communities.”Unlike a lot of rural areas, because of our clientele, we see heads of state, heads of major world and national corporations. I think we have a responsibility to prepare as best we can,” Cleveland says. “A lot of fighting terror is just being aware of what your weaknesses are and being prepared.”Cleveland has worked security on Vail Mountain for such high profile people as King Hussein of Jordan and former President Gerald Ford.”In those days, we (the police) skied with them; we were the security,” he says.Despite Eagle County’s high-profile guest list, Eagle Town manager Willy Powell doesn’t see too much of a threat to the county or the Town of Eagle.But he does see potential negative economic effects.”We certainly pay attention to the (warning codes), and more particularly our public works department and police department,” Powell says. “But we don’t have any specific actions that take place (with a higher terrorist attack warning).”Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger was only sworn in on Jan. 14 of 2002, but he says he already has a solid relationship with other authorities in and out of Eagle County.”I think this area is very safe,” he says. “There are no elements of statewide critical infrastructure in this area. We feel that there’s a fairly low threat, but on the other hand, I think it’s really important that public safety and fire officials are extra aware. But also the community needs to be extra aware, because they’re our eyes and ears.”Eagle Peace Initiative in questionThe Town of Eagle has a peace initiative on the agenda for a 7 p.m. meeting of the Town Council March 25, but Powell questions whether the initiative holds muster since the war in Iraq has already begun.”Our board has been asked to consider a resolution in opposition to the war,” he says. “But since the war’s already started, the point may be moot.”Economic outlookCounty commissioners say that revenue is above year-to-date projections, and war fears don’t seem to be having a negative economic effect in the valley so far.But national trends seem to have a delayed effect on Eagle County, says commissioner Michael Gallagher.So far this ski season, the looming war and the sagging economy have not been enough to put a damper on above-average snowfall.Colorado Ski Country USA last week reported 7,752,661 million ski and snowboard visits statewide through Feb. 28, a 7.65 percent increase in skier visits. The lobbying group did not release figures for individual ski areas.But in reporting Vail Resorts’ second-quarter financial result, CEO Adam Aron last week said Beaver Creek is poised to have a record year, in part due to the opening of the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.Aron also said the company’s newly acquired Heavenly ski area in California experienced a 21 percent jump in paid skier days by Jan. 31. He did not comment specifically on Vail’s skier days, and added he was concerned about the outbreak of war.” The repeated uncertainties that we and every other American face, namely the ever-present threat of war and its aftermath, cause us to be concerned about our performance in the current quarter and for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Aron said.In 1991, though, in the wake of the January launch of the first Gulf War, Colorado in general, and Vail and Beaver Creek in particular, experienced a slight increase in skier days over the previous season.The Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau recently reported a 2,000 percent increase in its online reservations with the launch four months ago of http://www.vailonsale.com, a Web site dedicated to discounted lodging inventory available within a week of travel.Since November, http://www.vailonsale.com has brought in more than $100,000 in gross lodging revenue.