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Oregon readies for red alert

Expect searches and restrictions in public buildings.

Statesman Journal
March 20, 2003

Oregonians can expect searches of bags and briefcases, restricted entry to public buildings and parking lots, delays in traffic — and maybe a lot more — if the local situation triggers a red alert for terrorist attacks.

But as of Wednesday night, after the United States launched the first cruise missiles in a war against Iraq, the state alert level remained at orange — indicating a high likelihood of terrorist attacks. It was the same as the federal alert level.

“Everything is the same right now,” said Mary Ellen Glynn, spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski. “The state police see no reason for the alert level to go up. There is no specific threat to Oregon.”

Kulongoski was scheduled to return home today from a trade mission to China. Glynn said the governor may make himself available for comment upon his arrival at Portland International Airport.

He is expected to land in Seattle Thursday morning and should be in Salem by midday.

The national alert may go to red, indicating a severe likelihood of terrorist attacks, once the United States goes to war.

State officials said Oregon would follow a federal upgrade of the national terrorism alert to its highest level if and when they hear about a threat to a specific location or facility within the state.

“At this point we do not intend to deploy additional people beyond those we already have around this state,” said Superintendent Ronald Ruecker of the Oregon State Police, the lead agency for security planning in the state and the liaison with the federal Homeland Security Department.

But the state police Web site posted a list of heightened security measures for critical sites, actions by local governments and expectations from the public if there is a red alert and a specific threat to Oregon.

Working with the state police, state agencies and local governments have been assessing security risks and planning for various possibilities since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the East Coast. Counties have key responsibilities for coordinating plans for emergency preparedness.

Things were quiet Wednesday in Portland. A single policeman stood in an otherwise empty Pioneer Courthouse Square, the usual gathering place for dissent.

“(Today) will probably be a fun day,” said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, police spokesman. “We have a lot of information on potential protests and some information on rallies to support the troops. Hopefully everyone can come and go to work and have a good time.”

Marion County Commissioner Mike Ryan said this area is in, “a heightened state of readiness.”

Sheriff Raul Ramirez said deputies are paying close attention to public works, looking for anything out of the ordinary, and keeping in touch with other agencies. But he said vigilance is not only the job of law enforcement professionals.

“We’re going to be looking to our citizens to be our eyes and ears, because we can’t do it alone,” he said. “A lot of the time, the leads we get about suspicious activity come from the public.”

On the other hand, Ramirez said, people should not panic or overreact.

“If the public is in any way in harm’s way, we will certainly communicate that,” he said.

Peter Wong can be reached at (503) 399-6745.

Security measures

Among the actions that people can expect if there is a specific threat and Oregon State Police raise the state alert level for terrorist attacks to severe (red):

Bags and briefcases will be searched before people are permitted to enter some public buildings.

Some buildings will be restricted to the public or even put off-limits.

Some parking lots will be put off-limits to the public, and cars entering some lots will be subject to visual inspection and search.

Since early this year, 15 free two-hour parking spaces in front of the Capitol have been chained off from public access, except through prearrangement for school and tour buses.

Streets and highways may be closed off in some areas near critical buildings and sites.

Police officers and others may work longer shifts and leaves will be canceled.

Security will be stepped up at key public buildings, airports, power plants and other facilities.

People will be asked to prepare for emergencies, based on advice from the U.S. Homeland Security Department on food and water, communications plans and other aspects.

People will be asked to monitor news reports and Emergency Alert System broadcasts.

Reporter Cara Roberts Murez and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
To learn more

The Oregon State Police Web site, through its Office of Public Safety and Security, lists detailed explanations of security expectations at various stages of terrorist alerts. It also provides links to other sites. The U.S. Homeland Security Department has posted a guide about what people can do to prepare for emergencies.

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