Local OEM Officials Prepare for Higher Alerts

March 18, 2003
Posted at: 8:16 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- As the possibility of war appears imminent, the Homeland Security Department calls on the public to be watchful and extra vigilant to guard against terrorism.

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced a series of new security measures called "Operation Liberty Shield." In a morning press conference, Ridge asked citizens to be more watchful. He says, however, that the real responsibily lies with authorities.

The new secuirty measures call for the stationing of National Guard and other security officers at key sites, including borders, airports, financial networks and even petroleum and nuclear facilities.

Region 8 emergency management officials were notified this morning via e-mail.

The Office of Emergency Services in Jonesboro received its communication from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Awareness. It's purpose was to alert all local emergency management services that the U.S. was once again on a Code Orange alert.

"We're going in to the Orange because of the imminent threat of war," said Jack Richardson, Craighead County OES Director said. "They feel that going into the imminent threat of war, that these terrorists in retaliation for what we're doing, may do something."

Once the e-mail reached Richardson's computer, preparations began in Craighead County.

"I immediately e-mail (information) out to local fire, police, sheriff's offices, and a couple of other local response agencies so that their aware of what going on at the same time," Richardson said.

The e-mail called for local authorities to be on alert for unusual activity and to report it immediately. Richardson says that currently there's no definite threat, but safety is the primary concern, even if that means going to Code Red.

"If we go to that status, I'm sure we'll all be informed of what their asking us to do, and we'll do what ever is asked," Sheriff Jack McCann said.

If a threat does arise, e-mail orders will follow, listing new local security measures.

"Then we direct our efforts in that way, and until that threat happens then we probably won't know in what direction we're going to go, but we just have to be prepared and planned," Richardson said.

The Department of Homeland Security performs daily, even hourly assessments of threat levels to determine the code status. The country has been on a at least a yellow alert since 9/11, but has never been at Code Red status.