Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

U.S. Tightens Security at Home; Ports, Airports, Plants Watched

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

U.S. Tightens Security at Home; Ports, Airports, Plants Watched

Article excerpt

Security was tightened across the nation yesterday as authorities towed vehicles parked in front of New York churches and synagogues, South Carolina probation officers were assigned to guard nuclear plants, and scuba divers inspected the hulls of ships berthing at Los Angeles harbor.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge outlined a national plan yesterday he said would harden America's defenses as war with Iraq loomed closer.

The plan, dubbed "Operation Liberty Shield," heightens security at the nation's borders, at airports, seaports and railways, at nuclear and chemical plants and elements of the nation's food supply and distribution system. Cars again will be subject to random inspections on roads around airports.

Governors are being asked to deploy National Guard troops or extra state police to help.

Ridge also called on the public to be watchful, saying extra vigilance adds to the nation's homeland defense. But he also urged people not to panic if there are rumors of terrorist attacks.

"There is bound to be disinformation. Don't react to rumors. We will strive to get the facts out there as fast as we can," Ridge said.

In Jacksonville, the orange alert has prompted tighter security measures and awareness at airports and seaports, and on local waterways.

Drivers of vehicles at Jacksonville International Airport will be subject to vehicle inspections on Airport Road before approaching the terminal.

"There are many more layers of security in place, but that is the only one that passengers will notice," said Michelle Branham, a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Airport Authority. JAA oversees JIA, Craig, Herlong and Cecil Field airports.

The inspections are random, but Branham declined to say how vehicles are selected.

Inspections last three to four minutes and they're expected to continue 24 hours a day until the Code Orange alert is changed.

The car inspections are projected to cost the authority an additional $150,000 this year, Branham said.

Two weeks of inspections during last month's orange alert cost the JAA $10,000, she said.

At the three Jacksonville ship terminals, port officials have increased their awareness.

"We are challenging anyone who wants access to our cargo, Jacksonville Port Authority spokesman Robert Peek said. The port authority manages three ship terminals, Blount Island, Talleyrand and Dames Point.

The Coast Guard is increasing its patrol efforts at ports and on waterways and working with local, state and federal government agencies, said Scott Carr, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Meanwhile, flights are being restricted near two Disney amusement parks and within 35 miles of New York City's three big airports. The restrictions mostly will affect small private planes. …

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