Thursday, March 20, 2003

States step up terror security

Food, water, highways, uranium plants get closer protection

By Shelley Davis
Enquirer Columbus bureau

COLUMBUS - More state troopers patrolling Ohio highways. Tighter security at uranium processing plants in Ohio and Kentucky. A wait-and-see attitude in Indiana.

Operation Liberty Shield - launched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as war looms against Iraq - has prompted states to step up security efforts in many ways.

While no specific terrorist threats have been directed toward Ohio, citizens should be cautious, Gov. Bob Taft said Wednesday.

"With war comes the increased possibility of some kind of terrorist attack on Americans or American facilities around the world," Taft said at a press conference. "But there is no specific evidence that Ohio is a target. Ohioans should go about their usual daily activities."

Taft urged Ohioans to keep following the news for security updates and to report unusual or suspicious activities to authorities.

Monday marked the second time the nation has raised the alert level to "orange," the second-highest level. Operation Liberty Shield adds emphasis to the alert.

Several state departments and agencies have taken steps, said Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Kenneth Morckel. Most noticeably, more troopers will patrol highways around six major Ohio cities, including Cincinnati. The state's weigh stations will be kept open 24 hours a day to inspect hazardous material shipments.

The Liberty Shield plan calls for increased security at state borders and waterways. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard have discussed ways to protect the Ohio River, Morckel said.

Ohio also is paying close attention to food and water supplies, which could be targets for biological or chemical terrorist attacks. The Department of Agriculture is monitoring all animal production facilities for unauthorized visitors or unusual disease symptoms in animals. Ohioans who notice anything out of the ordinary can call a 24-hour emergency hotline operated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal government only issues the highest terror alert - "red" or "severe" - for specific buildings or cities believed to be the target of a terrorist attack, Morckel said.

The other levels, green through orange, are general alerts for the entire nation. Each state department has a specific plan of precautions for the individual alert levels.

Morckel said federal authorities have given no indication how long the nation will remain on high alert.

"We're going day by day," he said.

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton said the state's security officials have been analyzing "potentially vulnerable points," like the uranium plant at Paducah, power plants and oil refineries.

Ray A. Nelson, executive director of the state Office for Security Coordination, warned that increasing protection on infrastructure targets could make softer targets more vulnerable, such as large gatherings of people at basketball games and theaters.

Indiana officials said general security has been raised across the state, but they do not plan to implement specific elements of the Liberty Shield plan until specific threats have been identified, said Clifford Ong, director of Indiana's Counter-Terrorism and Security Council.

Officials urged Ohioans to use common sense, stay informed, and remain calm.

"We don't need panic, and we don't need paranoia," Morckel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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