Threat level raises concern

<Posted 6:20 p.m. Feb. 21

by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Americans prepared themselves for the threat of another terrorist attack last week, stocking up on essentials and outfitting their homes with duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect against chemical and biological weapons.

The heightened preparedness came as a result of the nation’s Homeland Security Department raising the terror warning system from yellow, or “elevated risk,” to orange or “high risk.” The government raised the terror alert level because of intelligence reports that showed an increase in chatter among terror groups.

Major cities saw an increase in military patrols both by land and by air, and military vehicles with anti-aircraft missiles were deployed around the Washington region. The vehicles were last used in September.

Military bases across the country have increased security levels from Threat Condition Alpha to Threat Condition Bravo. The Pentagon remains at a still-higher state of alert and universities have taken special precautions as military officials continue to label them as possible targets. In March of last year, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge announced a color-coded alert system to let Americans know the level of probability of an attack. The code has five levels that correspond to the level of readiness and the threat at hand.

The government listed a number of precautions citizens should be aware of at the orange alert level. According to the Department of Homeland Security, citizens should have on hand three days worth of food and water, extra batteries, a disaster supply kit, a battery powered radio, and a supply of duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect against biological and chemical agents.

Americans are also asked to create a system to make sure all family members can communicate with one another and evacuate in the event of an attack and to be especially aware of one’s surroundings. People are asked not to cancel any travel plans or events that they might have scheduled, just to have a heightened sense of security. In Congress, both parties criticized the move by the Bush administration with Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., a former CIA officer and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, telling citizens “not (to) fall for hysteria and rumor.”

But other lawmakers want to be on the cautious side. According to The Washington Post, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the threat information “is serious and specific.”

“There’s not just chatter, but a pattern, and not just a pattern, but dots” that intelligence agencies have been able to connect in a general way, he told the newspaper. “There are a lot of things that add up.”

Many students feel that while they should take some precautions, they should continue to live their lives normally.

“I think that the worst thing we can do is blow things out of proportion. The best thing to do is to live your life,” said American University sophomore Melissa Wong. “I think people need to look out for one another, and the government should just be honest with us.”

Other students are linking the increased terror alert with the possible war with Iraq.

“It just seems all too convenient that the security level is an issue and duct tape is being marketed on CNN when support for Bush and his war is beginning to wane,” said George Washington University sophomore Julie Cafarella.

Students studying abroad haven’t felt any more concerned at the risk of attack being an American citizen studying in a foreign country. They do, however, often have to defend American values.

“People ask me all the time why my country is killing innocent people like it’s my fault,” said American University sophomore Natalie Alhonte, who is studying in Brazil this semester. “If terrorism happens, it is safer to be far away.”

George Washington University junior Cat O’Shaughnessy is studying in South Africa this semester and said she defends American foreign policy often, although she does not fear an attack herself.

“These people expect that I have pictures of President Bush in my wallet and posters on my wall or something,” O’Shaughnessy said.

It is unclear yet when the government will reduce the terror alert down to a lower level, although government officials said they might consider the action in the next week to quell public concern.

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