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U.S. News
Code Red would trigger a virtual lockdown

Top terror alert could shut landmarks, ground planes, stop trains or trigger roadblocks

Sunday, March 30, 2003

By Michael Collins, Scripps Howard News Service

WASHINGTON -- National landmarks such as the Washington Monument, Ellis Island and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis could be shut down.

Planes could be grounded, trains could stop running, and bridges and tunnels could be closed. U.S. borders might be sealed off, and roadblocks might be set up on interstates and other major highways.

The United States is prepared to go into lockdown mode if the government should raise the nation's terror alert to Code Red, the highest threat level for terrorism. Code Red means there is a severe risk of terrorist attack, or that an attack is imminent or may already be under way.

"It essentially means you stop doing everything except protecting yourself," said Dave McIntyre, deputy director of the Anser Institute for Homeland Security, a nonprofit research group in Arlington, Va.

Homeland security officials have put Americans on notice to brace for the possibility of terrorist attacks while the country is at war with Iraq. The threat level was raised to orange, the second highest, just two days before the war began March 19.

"There are no plans, nor have their been any discussions, about elevating the threat level to Code Red," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

To trigger such an alert, U.S. intelligence would have to be "very specific, credible, corroborated [and] provide us with information such as time, date, location" of a possible attack, Johndroe said.

Still, federal, state and local officials across the country are going over emergency plans to be prepared in the event that the terror level should be raised to red.

Homeland security officials have been vague about what protective measures might be taken under Code Red.

But Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said such measures might be similar to those put in place Sept. 11, 2001, which means planes could be grounded, borders closed, government buildings shut down and road and rail traffic curtailed.

The specific response would depend on the nature of the threat.

It's doubtful that the entire country would be placed under a Code Red alert, McIntyre said. A more realistic scenario is that a red alert would result from a specific threat to a particular region or industry.

If, for example, there were a terrorist threat against the trucking industry in the Southeast, truck traffic might be temporarily halted in that region but be allowed to continue elsewhere, McIntyre said.

Code Red wouldn't mean automatic closure of the Washington Monument and other national landmarks. But superintendents at national parks have been advised that shutting down the facilities is an option at their discretion, said David Barna, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

Security was tightened at eight high-profile landmarks, including the Washington Monument, the Liberty Bell pavilion and the Statue of Liberty, after Sept. 11 because they are symbols of democracy and are thus potential terrorist targets, Barna said.

Visitors at those landmarks now face airport-security type measures, such as metal detectors, bag searches and checks for explosive devices. Patrols also have been stepped up since the terror alert was raised to orange.

But Barna said the landmarks would remain open if possible because they are places of solace that should be available to the public in times of war.

A Code Red alert also serves as an advisory to state and local officials, who then must decide whether to put in place protective measures. Emergency plans will vary with each community, but might include calling up the National Guard, closing government buildings and shutting down key roads and bridges.

Some schools have plans to lock down their facilities during Code Red and already have begun advising parents not to rush to pick up their children.

Residents would be advised to stay away from gathering places, such as sporting events, and listen to the radio or television for instructions. They should be prepared to leave if necessary, but should remain in their homes or offices until they are instructed to leave, McIntyre said.

"The worst thing you can do is to flee without reason," which could create gridlock on the streets and keep emergency vehicles from getting through, he said.

Emergency measures taken under Code Red would be expensive and aren't intended to remain in effect for extended periods, McIntyre said.

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