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Local emergency personnel ready as U.S. goes to high alert status

The nation’s alert status was raised a notch yesterday afternoon — from elevated to high — after reports that terrorists may time attacks to coincide with today’s one-year anniversary of the deadly assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
U.S. Att. Gen. John Ashcroft said on TV yesterday that Al Qaeda operatives said attacks “could be timed” to Sept. 11. No specific site or sites were named as potential targets, but government officials speculated that military bases, government offices and national monuments could be targets.
As the announcement was being made, it was also reported that Vice President Dick Cheney had left the White House for an undisclosed location and would not be speaking later in the evening in Washington, D.C.
Ashcroft called on the American people “to remain alert but defiant.” Americans were encouraged to go on with today’s planned memorial services.
President George W. Bush approved the heightened state of alert after reports of the possibility of one or more “suicide” attacks, Ashcroft said yesterday.
The government has five levels of alert, ranging from green (low), blue (guarded), yellow (elevated), orange (high) and red (severe). The President’s change in status yesterday afternoon intensified the country’s status from elevated to high.
Locally, Harrison County Emergency Management Agency director Greg Reas said he’s “ready for about anything.”
Since the Sept. 11 attacks last year, federal, state and local agencies have implemented plans quicker than they might have otherwise.
“Two- and five-year projects were moved to the fast track,” Reas said, referring to the county’s siren warning system and other improvements. “A new vulnerability analysis was completed.
“We looked at the different things that could happen and its impact on the county,” Reas said.
While additional training and planning — being more prepared — are always welcome, Reas said Harrison County “wasn’t in horrible shape before.”
For the past eight years, the county’s EMA office has offered emergency medical service personnel, firefighters and law enforcement officers annual emergency response training programs, some of which focused on terrorists and malicious devices.
Local agencies will receive protective gear and equipment through funding from the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Office of Domestic Preparedness, which the state administers. The safety gear and equipment — including protective suits, goggles, gloves and masks — will be distributed to responders who are certified in certain areas.
The U.S. Congress allocated the $3.3 million for two reasons:
1) To assure that all communities have the ability to respond to incidents, to identify hazards, and take defensive actions to protects its citizens, and
2) To provide regional responses to support local efforts and to enable local responders to safely address a possible terrorist event, and to return communities back to safe and secure environments.
“We’ve made a lot of strides and done of a lot of things” to be better prepared, Reas said. “There’s been a significant amount of resources — money, manpower and materials — being spent on this.”