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Utah Raises Alert Status, Readies for Whatever War Brings

Utah Raises Alert Status, Readies for Whatever War Brings

Posted - Mar. 19, 2003 at 12:48 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's homeland security officials raised the state's alert status to its second-highest level and partially activated an emergency operations center -- though they stressed that no specific threat has been directed at the state on Wednesday as war in Iraq approached.

The "orange" alert level means that law enforcement and emergency workers begin paying extra attention to critical facilities such as water and power supplies and transportation hubs. New lines of communication are being set up through a centralized command to make sure every inkling of a possible attack gets evaluated.

And as war with Iraq neared, homeland security leaders were urging the public to be on the lookout for anything suspicious or unusual around their workplaces and neighborhoods -- and report everything to local police.

Though the national alert level has been raised to orange three times, this is the first time Utah has increased its alert status to the second-highest level.

Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Verdi White says the move is warranted now because of the war. "We have a higher standard of care we want to take." But still, there has been nothing to indicate Utah has been targeted by terrorists.

"The likelihood is, it's not going to be here in Utah," White said.

Most of the heightened security efforts in Utah are invisible to the general public. "This alert system is largely meant for us" in law enforcement, he said.

But some changes are noticeable.

At Salt Lake City International Airport, quick, random vehicle searches began for cars picking up or dropping off passengers. Cars parked in the short-term lot also were being searched. The airport plans to close a bicycle path that runs along the property's southern edge. That step is designed to extend the facility's secure perimeter.

Detective Kim Plouzek of the Salt Lake City police department was busy Wednesday updating an e-mail contact list for downtown businesses.

The list was used by the police during the 2002 Winter Games to tell business owners about big events or disturbances that would tangle traffic or make doing business difficult.

"This is just a program they want to get back in running order in case there are any alerts," Plouzek said, about 10 hours before President Bush's war deadline expired.

So far, there have been no specific alerts for Salt Lake police to broadcast. Plouzek said he expects the list could be used in the event of a big downtown protest, or if there were specific information about impending criminal activity, just as it was during the Winter Games.

Fans at Tuesday night's Utah Jazz basketball game got another reminder of Olympic security when they had to stand in line for metal-detector inspections before entering the Delta Center. Some fans missed the opening plays of the game because of the delay. Those same measures were in place for spectators entering Olympic competition venues.

White says the Olympic security experience has served Utah law enforcement well. For example, an intelligence-sharing system between the FBI and state and local authorities has been in operation ever since the games. Those officers now will scrutinize information from agencies around the state for anything that could be a tip-off to terror.

"Local cops on the beat are going to be more communicative about things that are strange," White said.

There won't necessarily be more officers on patrol, he said, but the heightened alert will lead those on duty to refocus their priorities. There will likely be fewer police and state troopers looking for speeding drivers, as they turn their attention instead to suspicious activity around dams, bridges or chemical plants.

Gary Ricks, legislative fiscal analyst, said the move to an orange alert doesn't add costs to the state's operations.

White does say people should pay more attention under the heightened alert.

"The best way to think about this is that it is a higher level of awareness," White said. "Just the awareness is a great deterrent to crime" and terrorism.

A multi-agency emergency operations center that would deal with the aftermath of any attack has been partially activated under the orange alert, White said. But the center won't be fully staffed unless something happens to further raise law enforcement's alarm.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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