HELENA - Wildfires are not the only potential disaster the state must be prepared to handle, Martz administration officials were told Monday.
Others include floods, terrorism, illegal drug labs, tornadoes and animal disease outbreaks that may be waiting in the wings.
That was the message delivered during a briefing organized by the Montana National Guard and the Disaster and Emergency Services Division for the new administration.
Most of the two-hour briefing explained the workings and relationships among the various government agencies required to respond in an emergency. But Gov. Judy Martz and most of her Cabinet also learned about new concerns.
Although most agencies are preparing for another bad fire season made likely by persistently dry conditions over much of the state, not all offices have that as their top priority.
Mike Batista, head of the Criminal Investigation Division in the Justice Department, called the increasing problem of methamphetamine labs in Montana the "greatest public safety concern." The state had no more than five of the clandestine drug-making factories five years ago; today, the number is believed to be 150, he said.
The labs are especially pervasive in the Flathead area and in Great Falls and the surrounding counties, Batista said. Authorities find an average of one lab a day, he said.
"It's had a severe impact on us and I only see the problem getting worse," he said.
About 80 percent of the state's investigatory work involves meth labs, which pose a threat beyond the drug they produce, he said. The operations carry with them a constant danger of explosions, and dangerous chemicals used to make the stimulant are poured into public water supply systems or rivers, Batista said.
Terrorism is a realistic threat in Montana, he told the gathering of state officials. Targets such as the state Capitol, transportation systems and airports mean the state is not immune from such attacks, Batista said.
Montana needs more people trained in dealing with mass casualties, gathering intelligence about terrorism groups, bomb disposal and preserving a crime scene after an attack, he added.
Dr. Arnold Gertonson, state veterinarian, said the discovery of a foreign animal disease in Montana - such and foot-and-mouth - would pose its own unique worries. How to dispose of a large number of animals and quarantining large ranches would be no less problems than the loss of revenue and production for the livestock industry, he said.
While the possibility of someone accidentally introducing such a disease here is bad enough, intentional spread could be even worse, he said. "Bioterrorism scares us to death."
Ray Nelson, spokesman for the state's fire and aviation management bureau, said times have changed when it comes to attacking wildfires in Montana. Federal, state and local government agencies work more closely together to combat the fires, he said.
Flames know nothing of government boundaries and Montanans with homes in the path of fire don't care whose fire engine shows up so long as one arrives, he said.
"We have a more unified approach to responding to fires," Nelson told Martz. "We've evolved into this interagency cooperative approach to respond to fires. We're all in this together and we really need to cooperate with one another."