Summertime in the United States means a lot of communities will be holding outdoor festivals, concerts and parades. This year, organizers of many events are concerned about terrorism. As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, parks officials from several communities in the state of Illinois met to learn more about security.
Chicago's biggest summer festival is underway: the 10 day Taste of Chicago includes plenty of food, concerts and a July third fireworks display. It attracts several million people and, according to FBI Special Agent Bob Holley, is the sort of event that might attract terrorists.
"Because it is a high-visibility event and that is what these terrorists target: high visibility events," he said. "They want to get mass casualties and get maximum exposure."
Officials say there have been no specific threats against the Taste of Chicago, but a few weeks ago, the FBI did ask its offices throughout the country to keep a closer watch on Fourth of July events. Many large Independence Day celebrations nationwide will have increased security, ranging from increased police presence to searching the bags of festival-goers.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association, Bill Wald, says communities are becoming much more serious about security in the wake of September 11. "Our own vice-president has said it is very possible that this country will be attacked again," he said. "I think it is time that all citizens get together and have these kinds of forums to be prepared on what to do if something happens again."
The Illinois Parks and Recreation Association recently held a meeting for local parks officials to learn more about making their events safer. FBI Special Agent Holley urged officials to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious, and to call the local police if they see something.
He also cautioned that there is no such thing as total security. "Are we going to be able to stop the individual suicide bomber? No. The Israelis have not been able to do it," he said. "Is there a certain profile that they meet? There is not a certain profile they meet."
The federal government has issued occasional and often vague warnings of terrorism threats during the last few months. One recently said terrorists might use tanker trucks containing gasoline or other explosive liquids to attack Jewish targets in the United States.
Larry Amidei of the Highland Park, Illinois Parks Department says parents with children in local day camps started calling his office shortly after the warning was issued. "The alert was that Jewish targets, such as synagogues and schools would be targeted," he said. "We are a large Jewish community in Highland Park."
Parks officials say while talk of terrorism might frighten some people, it is better to have a response plan ready should something happen. And, they say, that terrorism security and response plans can also help communities be more ready for natural disasters like tornadoes or floods.