Attacks Get Attention of South Dakota Authorities

The early morning bombings in London Thursday that left dozens dead and hundreds injured have officials in South Dakota monitoring the situation closely.

State Homeland Security Director John Berheim said state and local authorities are in contact with each other about the potential for terrorism in the state.

"I think you're going to see a higher level of alertness when it comes to security measures. Not that we're implementing any additional security measures, but all of a sudden people are really alert," Berheim said. "So you may see people doing their jobs just a little bit better than they were yesterday."

He went on to say that U.S. intelligence does not have any specific knowledge of a similar attack being planned against the U.S.

"For right now, it appears in South Dakota we will not be changing our threat level or doing any additional security-type things," Berheim said.

The state's congressional delegation spoke out against the attacks and offered sympathy to the British people.

"Today's attack on innocent civilians in London was a deplorable act of terrorism, and reminds us of the need to remain vigilant on a worldwide scale," Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., said in a press release. "We as Americans continue to stand strong and united with our allies in the global fight against terrorism, and our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and the family members of those who lost their lives."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the people of England are close to South Dakotans' hearts in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"Today's terrorist attacks on the innocent are deplorable. The people of South Dakota stand united with freedom-loving people everywhere in the global war on terror," he said.

The British, like Americans, are resilient, said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. "They will come through this event stronger and more united as a nation. Today, we stand united with our British allies as they mourn the loss of life and pray for those who have been injured to recover.''

Local response: Although law enforcement did not increase its presence locally or statewide in response to the attacks, Freddie Robinson, Brown County Emergency Management director, said the county has procedures in place if a terrorist attack occurred in the area. He said the county also has Community Emergency Response Teams - local volunteer responders, who are trained on how to react to a terrorism attack. These CERT personnel augment the response by trained firefighters, ambulance and law enforcement personnel.

South Dakota students in Europe: The Midwest Ambassadors of Music, which includes some local students, and Central High School band teacher Jerry Letcher, and his wife Peg, have been touring Europe during the last two weeks and were in London last week. Their daughter Kristen, 19, went on the same trip in 2003. This trip is the third for Jerry and the first for Peg.

"They called about 5 p.m. today to tell us they were safe and let his parents know they were OK," Kristen said.

The group is currently in Germany and will be back in the United States on Saturday. Kristen said that her parents didn't find out about the bombings until later in the day because they didn't have a lot of access to different media. She said that they had gone on the "Tube" (London subway system), but didn't know if they had traveled on one of the famed double-decker buses.

"When we were there (in 2003), we were more worried about pickpockets than terrorist attacks," Kristen said.

Bias developing?: With a previously unheard of Islamic group claiming responsibility for the attack, and previous terror attacks in Madrid, Spain, and the United States, Americans' views of Muslims could be slightly tainted.

Jon Schaff, professor and coordinator of political science at Northern State University, said that undoubtedly, biases could be generated because of the latest attack.

"If members from an identifiable group claim responsibility, it's not surprising then if biases occur," Schaff said.

One way he feels biases could be negated is by Muslim groups in the United States denouncing the terroristic actions of extremist Muslim groups.

Service as usual: With the U.S. threat level for mass transit systems being raised to "Orange" or very high, transportation agencies are taking extra precautions to ensure that passengers will be safe.

Dave Osborn, transportation director of Ride Line, said measures and precautions are being taken with the Aberdeen bus service to ensure riders are safe.

"We're taking care of certain measures and services won't be changed," Osborn said.

He added that passengers won't notice the changes and he wouldn't say exactly what measures Ride Line is taking.

"We review what's going on around the area and keep an eye on what's happening around the world," Osborn said. "We're prepared."

Distributed by the Associated Press

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