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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Schedules Statewide Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Security

LAS CRUCES - A renewed sense of urgency about security is prompting New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service to reach out to a statewide audience on Monday with Internet technology and academic expertise. NMSU will use an electronic platform, known as the Crisis Response Communications Network. Originally forged for distance education learning, it launched last spring before the tragic events of Sept. 11.

A main focus for the network is a virtual town hall meeting Dec. 3, which will draw together county-level leaders from across the state for an online session on emergency preparedness and technologies.

A panel of state and national agency experts have been asked not only to outline their own antiterrorism efforts at the midday meeting, but also to offer suggestions on prevention, detection and security methods at the farm level as well. The efforts are meant both to prevent attacks and offer rapid response to minimize consequences in case of terrorism.

"NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service wants to be a local partner in these stressful times," said Billy Dictson, Extension director and associate dean with NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics. In a sense, Extension is taking steps toward synthesizing and integrating the wide-ranging mix of security advice from governmental bodies and science communities, Dictson said.

For example, earlier this month Extension and New Mexico's Livestock Board conducted an online meeting to help agricultural industry officials and producers better protect their operations from anthrax, a naturally occurring bacterial disease. Another online presentation dealt with security measures for handling mail.

Extension is also posting regular notices about safety and emergency preparedness information on a World Wide Web site supporting the Crisis Response Network. Data packets have included tips on safeguarding water supplies and securing pesticides, as well as coping with anger over the terrorist attacks and financial management in uncertain times.

In an interview this week, Dictson said Extension's new role is welcome news to a number of state agencies. The state livestock board, health department and several other governmental bodies have expressed interest in using the Crisis Response Network.

Nationally, some agricultural experts fear that assaults on agriculture could cripple the country and would be far simpler to pull off than the World Trade Center events. Such an attack could cause widespread harm, including the potential destruction of millions of animals or plants, and a loss of trade worth billions of dollars.

Dictson said if the crisis involves preparedness, security, procedural steps, regulations,
contact information, official protocols or tips for local citizens here in New Mexico, then Extension has the technology, personnel and resources to help respond quickly.

NMSU has 52 sites in the state with Extension Learning Centers that can be used to view live or archived presentations. Among system features are a white board for presenters to make notes, live computer application sharing and on-demand playback. Access to the network is available from any Internet connection, and no special equipment is needed, Dictson said.

Suicide jets and anthrax attacks have driven home the reality of new kinds of terrorism, Dictson said. "The threat is real," he said.