Ehrlich, Cabinet meet to rehearse terrorism scenarios

City, counties say plans in place if war breaks out

Some already on high alert

Leaves could be canceled, patrols raised, mayor says

March 18, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

With the United States moving closer to war with Iraq, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. met with his Cabinet yesterday afternoon at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown to go over scenarios for responding to a terrorist attack.

The meeting, at the Camp Fretterd Military Reservation, was scheduled two weeks ago to ensure that all state agencies, from Aging to Veterans Affairs, know what steps to take in case of a crisis, Ehrlich said. But it came on the day President Bush told Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face a U.S.-led invasion.

"I'm sure there are plenty of governors doing the same thing I'm doing today, or at least there should be," he said.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley checked the city's preparedness level a week ago when he suddenly called his security Cabinet to the emergency operations center, just to see how fast they could get there.

If the United States starts bombing Iraq, the mayor said yesterday, the city will cancel leave for all essential personnel, institute 12-hour shifts and "put more bodies on the street" to watch over essential infrastructure.

"Our response is not as good as it could be if the federal government and private industry made the sorts of investments that we're making to our infrastructure," O'Malley said. "We do the best we can with the resources we have and a federal government that has a bad case of the slows when it comes to homeland security."

Around the state, officials said they are ready to bolster security in case of war with Iraq, but they said there will be no scramble to put plans in place, largely because preparedness has been revamped since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris said this month that he would create a division dedicated to homeland security. Some Maryland troopers have received security clearance from the federal government to monitor intelligence reports that could affect the state.

"Essentially, everything we have is already in place," said Lt. Bud Frank, a state police spokesman. "Post 9/11, we looked at a lot of things and developed a lot of procedures and policies to ensure we were prepared, should something like this happen, and we are."

Frank, like law enforcement officials around the state, declined to give many specifics about those procedures and policies. But he said yesterday that if the federal threat level increases, due to war in Iraq or any other contingency, people can expect to see more visible security, particularly around sensitive sites and buildings. Last night, the federal government raised the threat level to orange or "high alert."

In the counties, officials said police officers and other emergency responders won't have to radically change what they're doing if war occurs because they are already on a heightened state of alert.

At Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, the security level remains high, as it has since shortly after Sept. 11. Guards are posted at the gates, each person entering the base is subject to an identification check and the National Guard and Army Reserve have an increased presence on the post.

"We have no plans to change our threat level," spokeswoman Patricia McClung said. "We heightened our security after Sept. 11, and we've remained at that level."

Harford County spokeswoman Merrie Street said officials are asking residents to be vigilant and call local law enforcement agencies if they see suspicious activity.

Baltimore County police probably won't call in additional officers if war breaks out. But they do plan to redeploy officers to street patrols and to open the county's command and control center at public safety headquarters on Joppa Road, spokesman Bill Toohey said.

Howard County will also open its Emergency Operations Center, but county spokeswoman Victoria Goodman declined to detail what other specific actions the county would take.

Anne Arundel County officials also refused to discuss their plans.

In Carroll County, state police Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Westminster barracks who is transferring this week to the state's Homeland Security and Intelligence Bureau, said security levels were not reduced after the federal government downgraded its threat assessment from orange to yellow early this month.

"But we are not likely to be a target," Katz said. "Carroll County is the safest place in the state. For one thing, people here call the police whenever they see suspicious activity."

Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt, Lane Harvey Brown, Julie Bykowicz, Doug Donovan, Mary Gail Hare and Jason Song contributed to this article.

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