A special state bomb disposal unit is on standby across Maryland while State Police intelligence officials confer daily with local and federal groups in light of a potential threat of Iraqi-supported terrorism.
Meanwhile, the state's emergency medical apparatus is reviewing procedures on how to respond to any attack and how best to handle mass casualties in a terrorist situation.
Bob Thomas, deputy chief state fire marshal, said four groups of bomb-disposal officers are on 24-hour alert. The teams are from Baltimore, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, and Thomas' office.
"We have people trained in all varieties of explosives and others who have a working knowledge of chemical and nuclear conditions," Thomas said.
While the prospect of any attack by terrorists in Maryland is considered remote, officials here and across the country have heeded warnings from the Bush administration, which predicted a wave of terrorist attacks could occur in response to a U.S. attack on Iraq.
Some intelligence professionals are taking the threat seriously. Others, like Brian Jenkins, a private security consultant, thinks Americans are "overreacting" to the possibility of attacks in the United States.
Thomas said attention is being directed to "the executive branch of government, visiting dignitaries, state offices . . . and a handful of embassies in Montgomery County located across the line from Washington, D.C."
At the same time, the State Police Special Tactical Assault Team Element, or SWAT team, has been placed on a heightened state of alert. These officers are trained in counter-terrorist tactics and are armed with the latest automatic weapons and other devices.
Capt. John P. Cook, commander of the State Police intelligence unit, said he and his officers are in daily contact with local and federal agencies.
"What we have to look at very carefully is the level of support for these terrorist cells here and the kinds of targets they are probably interested in," Cook said.
He included nuclear power facilities like the one at Calvert Cliffs, military installations, banks and symbols of government or the military.
Cook said, "We would be dealing with professional terrorists who are disciplined and dedicated. They would not want to make public opinion in the U.S. go against them."
Support for such groups in the United States, he said, has virtually disappeared following the decline of radical organizations from the '60s and '70s which openly called for armed struggle. White supremacist groups like the Aryan Nation, active now, probably would not align themselves with radical groups from the Middle East, Cook said.
"The other place to look at is the Arab-American community, but immediately you must weigh their perceptions of how unfair they are treated when dealing with such a sensitive issue like mass destruction and mass casualties," Cook said.
"Even the Arab-American community is divided on the complex picture in the Middle East and it would not be fair, indeed, to lump them all into one philosophical category," he said.
The head of Maryland's emergency medical services yesterday warned that those who respond first to a terrorist incident could be killed by a deliberate second explosion.
"We have learned from terrorist incidents around the world that the actual medical response to injuries and the distribution of patients to proper facilities remains the same as in any other disaster, but when the incidents involve explosions, they are followed by secondary explosions timed to injure the rescuers," Dr. Ameen Ramzy, the EMS director and a trauma surgeon said.
"The principle we follow is that emergency responses should be an extension of day-to-day operations, which means that the responders who typically respond should be the ones to respond in a larger situation," he said.
In the event of an emergency terrorist incident, medical personnel from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services would respond after bomb disposal units and other critical personnel.