Alert drops to yellow

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 27, 2003

The federal government lowered the threat level from orange to yellow on Thursday, marking the first time that homeland security has increased by a lowering of a colored degree since Sept. 11, 2001.

No longer on "high" alert, Pike County residents are now, once again, encouraged to be on "elevated" alert, but are not yet able to relax under a code blue status. The alert system was designed by the newly Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and its head, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

Brundidge Police Chief Moses Davenport said that the move from orange to yellow had little practical effect for residents of a small town. When asked whether there was any real difference between the two levels, he said "&uot;I don't think so."

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"I don't think we should ever relax," he said. "But the threat is pretty much the same now as it was before. The warnings are mostly for people around big targets."

However, Davenport said residents should remain on guard.

"If people are doing things around water towers or a propane storage area, we ask people to notify us," he said. "Try to get an ID of the vehicle, but we're not asking people to intervene, by any means. But be aware."

The United States was declared to be in a state of "code orange" Feb. 7 after federal officials received what they now admit was fabricated or unreliable information about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack designed to coincide with a Muslim holiday called the hajj. Many Americans panicked when they heard about the orange alert, prompting a spending spree on numerous assorted household items.

Critics have attacked the color-coded alert system, saying it will eventually de-sensitize Americans to the possibilities of attacks. Some national observers say there is a problem with relying on a system of intelligence gathering that determines the odds of attacks by averaging the results of what are essentially informed guesses by experts whose careers can only be ruined by underestimating the threat.

Still, a heightened level of awareness is appropriate, said Sgt. Benny Scarbrough, Public Information Officer for the Troy Police Department.

"If there's anything out of the ordinary, we need to report that information," he said. "The best word I can use would be 'cautious.' I know we do that in everyday living, hopefully, but I think what 'cautious' means today and 'cautious' meant prior to Sept. 11, 2001, are two different things."

Scarbrough said the TPD would not be radically changing daily routines with the new return to code yellow, but said that the force would remain vigilant and continue to look out for public safety.

"As far as day to day operation as we do things, it won't be a drastic change, but in our job, we have to look at all the possibilities," he said.

Those possibilities, Davenport said, include scenarios that should keep Pike Countians on their toes.

"Of course you have Lockheed Martin or Fort Rucker, but they could also derail a train or sail something up the Pea River. You've got any type of people that you name that could travel up and down 231," he said.

The Department of Homeland Security asked Americans to remain "defiant and alert," in a press release announcing the return to a merely elevated risk. No mention was made in the release of the advice to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting that became staples of late night comedians' jokes.

"Returning to the elevated level of risk is only an indication that some of the extra protective measures enacted by government and the private sector may be reduced at this time," the release said.