City security efforts beefed up

Mayor raises alert level, police increase patrols in response to terror threat

August 03, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

With the country warned of specific terrorist targets in Washington and New York, officials in the Baltimore area announced additional precautions and increased their watch of some public buildings.

Mayor Martin O'Malley raised the city's alert level slightly and the city police dispatched extra officers to patrol near buildings that house financial institutions, such as the Federal Reserve Bank, and prominent companies.

Over the weekend, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said intelligence reports indicated that the al-Qaida terror network wanted to attack high-profile buildings related to the financial sector in the nation's capital, northern New Jersey and New York.

Baltimore police spokesman Matt Jablow said people near local buildings receiving extra protection should not be alarmed if they see heavily armed police officers.

"It's a totally precautionary measure," Jablow said. "There are no direct threats against Baltimore."

O'Malley raised the city's preparedness level -- which is recorded on a scale from Alpha to Delta, the most serious -- from Bravo to Bravo-plus.

"The fact that it was specific to New York and Washington made it more urgent," O'Malley said, "given Baltimore's proximity to Washington and New York."

Baltimore County's emergency committee met yesterday to organize in the event that local police or firefighters are called to any of the three areas of concern: New York City, Newark, N.J., and Washington.

Maryland Homeland Security Director Dennis R. Schrader said police have been asked to intensify their focus on commercial trucks, particularly fuel trucks that could be used to cause explosions, but he declined to discuss specifics.

"We want to vary the type of things we're doing, the location and the timing," Schrader said. "These are not exotic things. They're straightforward, but it's the randomness that throws off the terrorists."

The tactics might be nothing more than parking a patrol car outside a building or checking more trucks at weigh stations, Schrader said.

State law enforcement officials activated a tactical operations center in Central Maryland, a new 24-hour center for coordinating the work of agencies such as the state police and the Maryland Transportation Authority police.

These moves follow Sunday's announcement by Ridge that intelligence pointed specifically to two Washington targets: the International Monetary Fund headquarters and the World Bank. He also identified the Prudential Financial building in Newark, the Citigroup building in New York and the New York Stock Exchange as possible targets.

In response, the terror alert spectrum was raised in New Jersey and Washington from yellow or "elevated" to orange or "high." In New York, the alert color remained at orange, as it has since Sept. 11, 2001.

Yesterday marked the capital's first day at orange-level threat since January, when the nation was lowered back to yellow alert.

But despite the additional precautions being taken around the region, many said yesterday was just another day in the post-9/11 era.

"We aren't taking any action other than our routine day-to-day action on behalf of Homeland Security," said Victoria Goodman, a Howard County spokeswoman.

Officials there and in other area counties said they have previously discussed and made preparations for the possibility of being flooded by residents being evacuated from Washington.

Anne Arundel County officials discussed the recent threats with the Office of National Capital Region Coordination, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, and officials in surroundings counties. But those discussions, said county emergency management director James Weed, were "not anything abnormal." A police spokesman said officers on duty were instructed to monitor financial institutions.

Passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport did not see a difference in service yesterday, airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

Sun staff writers Doug Donovan, Joe Nawrozki, Sandy Alexander, Andrew Green and Mary C. Schneidau contributed to this article.

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