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National Guard called in to patrol Pa.'s nuclear plants; Police ordered to check on malls

Orange Alert: State, city raise vigilance against terror threat

Monday, December 22, 2003

By Tom Barnes and Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG -- Security at Pennsylvania's nuclear power plants, airports, bridges and shopping malls is being heightened today after Gov. Ed Rendell raised the state terror alert to orange.

At a news conference late last night, Rendell announced he had directed the Pennsylvania National Guard to deploy armed personnel to guard the commonwealth's five nuclear power plants around the clock, beginning at 7 this morning.

 
 
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The state police were called upon yesterday to guard those plants until the Guard could be fully mobilized today.

Rendell said the state police would coordinate security with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for the major infrastructure in the state, and eight police helicopters also will provide security for bridges and nuclear power plants. The power plants are in Beaver, Dauphin, Montgomery, York and Luzerne counties.

"There is no credible evidence of any site-specific threat of any site in Pennsylvania, but we urge all Pennsylvanians to be vigilant," he said last night. "Anyone who sees any suspicious activity should report it" to the state terrorism tip line at 1-888-292-1919. Rendell said measures also were being taken at other public facilities. The state police have been directed to inspect areas for public gathering, such as shopping malls and stadiums in their patrol areas.

PEMA Director David M. Sanko said the efforts are similar to those instituted during the most recent orange terror alert in May, with the exception of the use of all eight state helicopters. He also said malls would get closer attention because of the holiday shopping season.

The National Guard began the round-the-clock security detail at the power plants after Sept. 11, 2001. In late April of this year, Rendell briefly lifted their deployment; two weeks later, Guard members were back at their posts after the terror level was elevated to orange once again. Shortly afterward, the round-the-clock was ended when the terror alert was reduced to yellow.

Rendell said he expects to hear more information today from Tom Ridge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, about any specific terrorist sites in Pennsylvania. If there are any such sites, Rendell said, they won't be announced publicly in order to avoid a panic.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has alerted water plants, bulk storage facilities, waste water treatment plants, dams, nuclear power plants and above ground storage facilities to be more vigilant.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission also has been called into the alert. Rendell said all maintenance sheds, tunnels and exit interchanges are on a heightened security level. State police also will conduct security checks throughout the turnpike system.

For travelers, the wait inside the buildings at Pittsburgh International Airport to get through security shouldn't be any longer today, but cars may be subjected to random searches, said JoAnn Jenny, a spokesperson for the airport.

Jenny said a message also will be playing over the public address system stating that the terror alert is now orange, which means high alert. That message asks travelers to report suspicious activity or packages.

"We ask the public to be partners in security awareness," she said.

While the airport will be increasing security at its perimeter and increasing patrols inside, the security screening won't be changed.

"Those are already at their highest levels," Jenny said.

Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said that before raising the Pennsylvania threat level, Rendell called on members of his "homeland security Cabinet." That group includes Sanko; Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, commissioner of the state police; Maj. Gen. William B. Lynch, the adjutant general of the National Guard; and the secretaries of six state agencies.

"They got together and decided that elevating the threat level would be the prudent thing to do," Ardo said.


Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254. Ann Belser can be reached at abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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