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Utah Hunkers Down for War

Utah Hunkers Down for War

Posted - Mar. 20, 2003 at 12:49 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Troopers and local police guarded highways, water supplies and power stations on Thursday as the nation went to war against Iraq.

Gov. Mike Leavitt said the state can handle any natural or other disaster even though 4,000 of its 5,700 National Guard reserves have been mobilized for the war.

Utah is contributing more of its reserves than most states because they have useful skills ranging from language translation to water purification, he said.

"It's important to note we have no viable or specific threat that Utah or Utah assets would be subject to a terrorist attack," Leavitt said Thursday.

Still, Leavitt cited a "heightened need for vigilance."

For the first time, Utah raised its alert status to orange on Wednesday, one level under the highest level of red, as the state's homeland security division activated an emergency operations center.

Law enforcement is on the lookout for any kind of trouble, even from social malcontents who might seize the moment to make their own point, Utah Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers said.

Flowers has been regularly briefing Leavitt on the state's alert status and emergency preparations.

Water tanks and reservoirs are getting extra security and testing, although it's "very, very difficult" for anyone to contaminate the largest supplies, said Flowers. The state is doing everything it can "short of putting an officer on every water tank with a gun."

Officials are asking Utah residents to be on alert for anything out of the ordinary. Flowers praised one person who reported as suspicious a lunch cooler left in the open behind the Capitol.

It turned out to be "simply a guy's lunch," he said. Construction workers building two Capitol wings were ordered to keep their belongings in their car.

"We know with a fair amount of certainty there will be terrorism in the United States," but not where or when it will occur, said Flowers. He said the East and West coasts seemed more vulnerable than the country's interior.

Flowers said his emergency command has made preparations to maintain power supplies in Utah even if they are disrupted on the same power grid outside the state.

For now, the state's nearly 400 Highway Patrol officers are on a regular schedule, he said.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard, police chiefs and state and federal administrators were meeting Thursday to tighten up security in Utah's largest city. They planned to hold a news conference at 4 p.m.

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

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