Safe To Fly, Eat And Drink?

Despite the circumstances of her last few years, Brooke Astor will most likely be remembered most for her philanthropy. She liquidated the Vincent Astor Foundation in 1997, having made a solid impact on such institutions as the International Rescue Committee, the Fresh Air Fund, the Lighthouse for the Blind and, perhaps above all, her beloved New York Public Library.
AP Photo
As the American assault on Iraq intensifies, authorities here at home are stepping up all phases of security, from strengthening borders and airports to protecting food supplies. The Early Show asked Col. Randall Larsen, director of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, if people should be worried about traveling right now.

"It's a serious decision for school districts," says Col. Larsen. "I was talking to one last week and they have a quarter million dollars worth of tickets and things to go to Disney World that are nonrefundable, should they go? The answer is yes."

Col. Larsen encourages Americans to continue to live their lives, even though there is a possibility that there's going to be a few terrorist attacks in the next couple weeks, he says.

"But I can tell you over Memorial Day weekend there's going to be 400 people killed in automobile accidents. We do that every year. But we go on with our holidays, we go on with our lives and we should do that right now. It's very important," he says.

As far as airline security, Col. Larsen, who has been flying recently, says he was really surprised at the efficiency of airline travel security.

"I came through the St. Louis and Washington, D.C. airports Tuesday evening on a very high orange alert. I got through there quickly, efficiently, and yet you could see there was more presence of police officers in the area, there were more security checks. But I'm impressed with their system. So I think it's completely safe to fly. I let my family fly right now."

Besides flying safety, Col. Larsen, who retired after 32 years of military service in the Army and Air Force, says he is asked often about the safety of our reservoirs.

"That's one of the most common questions I've received over about the last 10 years when we talk about homeland security and, really, water supply is supremely safe. What the environmentalists say is, 'The solution to pollution is dilution.' The fact is if you have a huge reservoir, you just can't put enough bad material in that reservoir to contaminate it. Plus it goes through filtration systems and chemical treatment plants."

Col. Larsen even says that the water that comes out of the taps in Washington, D.C. is safer than the bottled water you buy in the store "because there are no national standards for bottled water but there are national standards and a lot of protections on tap water."

A bigger challenge is securing our food supply. Recently, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson expressed his concerns. "One in seven Americans gets their paycheck from agriculture. That's either the production frosting or retail sales so there are a lot of places where people could contaminate the food supply," Col. Larsen notes.

"But I'll tell you, I spent the last 18 months working with Jim Mosley, who is the deputy secretary of agriculture, Indiana farm boy like me that has long roots in agriculture and I'll tell you I'm very impressed with what the USDA is doing to protect the food supply. We have inspectors in every facility right now and USDA has been doing a lot of exercises in case they could not prevent an attack on it; how they would quickly respond to make sure we maintain a safe and secure food supply in this country," Col. Larsen explains.

And then there is "The Wild Card," which is what the Department of Defense refers to as what we haven't thought of.

"We've thought of so many things, we've raised the security levels on this country but on the 10th of September in 2001, how many people were thinking about hijacked airliners flying into buildings? That's the one that always keeps me awake at night, what is it that we haven't thought of? We've done a tremendous amount of security precaution for those that we haven't thought of but there are still those," Col. Larsen says.