Vermont officials respond to federal Orange Alert

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says the state of Vermont is working with the federal Department of Homeland Security to beef up efforts to protect critical infrastructure throughout the state from a potential terrorist attack. Douglas says he has no reason to believe that any site in Vermont will be targeted but he says the state must be prepared for terrorist activities.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The governor called for additional security measures after speaking with federal Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge on Monday evening, following the president’s speech to the nation.

As the country prepares to take military action against Iraq, the governor says local, state and federal officials will be deployed to provide an additional level of protection along the Canadian border, at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear power plant, at the Burlington Airport and at critical electrical power transmission centers. Douglas says the state’s effort will be coordinated by Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper.

Ridge has elevated the national threat level to “orange,” which represents a high level of alert. The country has been put at the Orange Alert level several times in the past, but Sleeper says this alert is different:

(Sleeper) “It’s clear that there’s a strong likelihood of some type of terrorist attack within the continental United States. We haven’t heard that before. In addition it’s clear that [the Department of] Homeland Security is requesting that all states take a very close look at enhancing their critical infrastructure in those states that had never been specifically requested before – to the point of them following up with what have we deployed as assets, what are those enhancements we’ve taken.”

(Host) Douglas urged Vermonters to remain calm but alert in the days and weeks ahead:

(Douglas) “To report any suspicious activity around infrastructure assets to their local law enforcement agencies, but not to panic. The terrorists win if the people of the United States become so frightened that we don’t go about our daily lives in a near normal way.”

(Kinzel) Commissioner Sleeper says the state can maintain this new level of security for several weeks before the effort will directly affect the regular activities of local and state police officers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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