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Troy prepares for level orange

The United States federal government elevated the homeland security alert to "orange" Friday, marking a departure from the "yellow" level that signified "significant" risk from terrorism. The new "orange" level means that the national threat level is now "high" and was called "the most significant threat warning we could have issued since Sept. 11, 2001," said Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security, even though there is actually a higher level of alert: "red."

Local law enforcement officials are on the case, adding anti-terrorism duties to their already-significant caseloads.

"Sometime after the Sept. 11 incidents, shortly after that, what we do on a day to day basis changed," said Troy Police Chief Anthony Everage. "We got to see this unfold nationwide because of television but our objective is still to protect the citizens of Troy."

TPD Public Information Officer Benny Scarbrough described some of the department's daily activities as local agents in the "war on terrorism."

"We monitor the events that are going on in the state," he said. "That's something we do every day. The chief checks the White House Web page for up to date information every day and checks on our status. We receive information through the National Crime Information Center that may not be on a Web site. For example, there was a directive sent out when we went from yellow to orange."

Everage said the attacks, which killed 2,792 people in New York City and 125 people from the Pentagon, changed the paradigm for local law enforcement.

"It made us more aware of what the threats might be, as we went from a situation where terrorists attack in other parts of the world to having it on our soil in one day and numerous sites. The awareness has been heightened and there has been training from the federal government to local levels, especially at levels of biological training," he said.

Everage went to Ft. McClellan in Anniston and received special training, while other TPD officers have been trained in weapons of mass destruction, with an emphasis on chemical warfare. Scarbrough said the training included information about protective clothing that could withstand biological and chemical contaminants and instructions on measures to prevent contamination. Some officers may even be able to defuse a weapon.

"9-11 changed the way we do business," Everage said.

However, in the event of an actual disaster, the TPD's cooperation with other agencies will become most important. Scarbrough said crowd control and evacuation would be handled in conjunction through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal organization with the power to suspend the Constitution during crises. FEMA would handle any quarantines or mass movements of populations.

Some insiders are skeptical of the need to elevate the alert status to orange. Published reports have cited FBI and CIA officials who say there is no hard evidence that a new attack is forthcoming and one White House source has been quoted as saying that the decision to issue a terror alert was a political one.

"Of course the White House is going to exploit the terrorism threat to the fullest political advantage," said Democratic strategist Russ Barksdale. "They would be fools not to. We'd do the same thing."

Still, Scarbrough said law enforcement sources have been picking up trails that lead them to conclude that more people are at risk.

"It's our intelligence and our ability to detect things that may happen that has increased," he said. "We pay more attention to intelligence. That's why you saw the threat level go up. There are several reasons. There's a Muslim religious period called the Hajj and that played into the rise of the alert level and the also world climate as it is from a military aspect."

Hajj is an Islamic pilgrimage that literally means "to set out from a place." Many Muslims use Hajj as a time to take a peaceful spiritual journey, but the federal government deems the February period to be a time of increased danger and heightened orange alert -- especially as the United States prepares to preemptively attack Iraq.

Scarbrough said Everage was in constant communication with other law enforcement groups.

"Chief Everage is in contact with the FBI and the joint-terrorism task force office run by local FBI agents out of the FBI office in Montgomery. He's also in touch with the U.S. attorney's office and being advised of any information that they might have."

Additionally, the TPD has put links to the FBI and DoD Homeland Security pages on its Web page (www.troypd.com) as public service to disseminate information to the public.

News of a new audio tape that U.S. officials claim to be from Osama bin Laden has dominated headlines and may have also contributed to the "code orange" alert, although Lt. Gen. Dan McNeil, the U.S. general leading 13,000 troops in the hunt for bin Laden through Afghanistan, has said publicly that the tape is not proof that bin Laden is still alive.