The University is monitoring campus security closely this week following testimony by FBI Director Robert Muller, who said colleges and universities may be the targets of the next terrorist attacks.
University officials have cautioned that Muller’s warning was intended as a general assessment of the vulnerabilities of campuses rather than specific threats. The University’s emergency alert level remains at “normal.”
Air defenses around the city, including mobile missile launchers, have been strengthened amid a heightened terrorist alert. A warning from CIA Director George Tenet said al Qaeda attacks could occur as early as this week.
“We are constantly reviewing what we need to do to ensure security,” said John Petrie, assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management at GW.
Students had mixed reactions to the recent terror warnings.
“My parents call every day,” junior Sarah DeGuilio said. “I have to assure them that I am safe and that I’m taking every precaution. But really what can we do? We’re powerless.”
Petrie said he attended a high level security meeting on Capitol Hill with Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey and other D.C. security officials discussing the terror alert and District precautions this week.
Petrie said two things were announced at the meeting – that there was no specific evidence of a threat to D.C. and that the city was the best prepared in the nation to deal with the heightened terror status.
A statement posted on the University’s Campus Advisories Web site said the University Police Department is operating at a heightened awareness due to the elevation of the national terror alert status from yellow (elevated risk) to orange (high risk).
Some students are resigned to the dangers posed by living in the nation’s capital.
“We have chosen to come here to live,” sophomore Brian Adkins said. “I don’t get alarmed because I’ve accepted the fact that I live here and that this is going to be a way of life.”
Others are more skeptical of terror warnings.
“The alerts have no meaning to me,” said Stefano Formica, a first-year law student. “It seems to me that the increase in stories having to do with war seem to coincide with the color of the terror alerts.”
Government officials said they have no specific information pointing conclusively to where, when or how terrorists might strike. They said raising the national alert level from yellow to orange and taking additional security measures make it more difficult to carry out an attack.
Mayor Anthony Williams’ office published a “Family Preparedness Guide” this summer that advised District residents to prepare a three-day supply of food, water and sufficient clothing, radios, flashlights and batteries.
Petrie said the University is complying with federally-issued recommendations and has sufficient supplies to cover campus in the case of an attack.
MPD spokesman Joe Gentile said students should follow the same basic tips as other citizens, whom the government has advised to be prepared for emergency situations.
“Be vigilant,” Gentile said, “and call the police if you see any suspicious behavior.”
-Michael Barnett and Jess Shoemaker contributed to this report.