PR push downplays crop duster threat

WASHINGTON: The National Agricultural Aviation Association has launched a national grassroots campaign to reassure people that terrorists cannot use crop-dusting planes to spread anthrax or other harmful biological agents.

WASHINGTON: The National Agricultural Aviation Association has launched a national grassroots campaign to reassure people that terrorists cannot use crop-dusting planes to spread anthrax or other harmful biological agents.

"The impetus for this started after the terrorist attacks last September,

when the federal government twice grounded crop dusters, said Steve Powell, a North Carolina-based independent practitioner who handles communications for the association.

"We wanted to put to rest any concerns that folks may have that what we do for a living may play into the hands of terrorists,

he said.

The association also wanted a campaign that would touch on the professional training its 1,300 members undergo, and would emphasize the importance crop dusting plays in US agriculture.

Powell created a media relations kit containing sample press releases, letters to the editor, and a media advisory for local events. In February, he sent kits to 600 association members across 30 states. The campaign, being done on a $15,000 budget, "relies on the legwork of the local members,

he said.

Members have been encouraged to call local newspaper editors and wire service reporters, and also to meet with local and state law enforcement officials to discuss security issues.

Those efforts are already paying off. Local media coverage in Kansas led to an AP story and a USA Today story this month. Other stories have run in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Iowa. Powell estimated that 2 million readers have seen coverage, and "we know that number is going to go up," he said.

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