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Orlando water supply threatened

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- The FBI said Sunday security around Orlando's water purification and distribution centers has been beefed up in the wake of "a vague, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated threat" to the water supply.

FBI Special Agent Wendy Evans said the threat was received Sunday morning.

"In an abundance of caution, to err on the side of getting out information to everyone -- even though it is uncorroborated and vague -- we decided to notify local authorities," she said.

Evans, citing the ongoing investigation, would not describe details of the threat or how it was received, but said security at all of Orlando's water purification and distribution facilities had been stepped up.

The threat is a tough one for investigators to pursue, she said. "The bottom line is we have to rely on our citizens to help us when we receive this type of information."

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It is the first such threat specific to the Orlando area received since the September 11 attacks, she said.

Members of the Central Florida Regional Homeland Security Task Force met Sunday morning in Orlando and "implemented appropriate safety and security measures," said Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"You're kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't," he said. "You don't want to fall into the Chicken Little syndrome."

There has been no evidence the water supply has been compromised, he said.

"We stress, and underline stress, that the information was vague and unsubstantiated. But there doesn't appear to be any, at this point, threat to the public safety," Solomons said.

"We're going to make sure that everything is nice and tidy in central Florida," Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary told reporters. "We're taking care of business here."

A spokesman for the Orlando Utilities Commission said the FBI contacted the commission's water production director before dawn, and field personnel were mobilized soon after.

The OUC has 120,000 accounts serving more than 300,000 people, said spokesman Sheridan Becht.

Instead of depending on reservoirs, the county relies on water from wells drilled 1,000 feet below ground into aquifers.

The water is pumped to eight water plants -- tanks containing up to several million gallons apiece -- in the Orlando area, where it is treated and distributed, he said.

The treatment is done with chlorine and by bubbling ozone gas through the water, he said.

Though the plants are typically unmanned, guards were posted at them Sunday, he said. On an average day, they pump 80 million to 90 million gallons of water.

Preliminary water checks have found nothing amiss, he said, adding that he would not divulge what tests were carried out.

A number of major amusement parks, tourist attractions and hotels are in Orange County, including Universal Studios.

Security has been beefed up at Walt Disney World, which straddles Orange and Osceola counties, said spokeswoman Marilyn Waters.

The amusement park has its own water supply for the 200,000 people on its grounds on any given day, protected by a system of alarms and security personnel "independent of this incident," she said.

"After we were notified by law enforcement today, in an extra step of caution, we did increase our personnel, including Orange County sheriff's deputies," Waters said.




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