Stateline Story

Iraq Crisis Spurs Tightened State Security

  • March 19, 2003
  • By Pamela Prah

As the nation braced for war with Iraq, states reacted to an elevated terror alert level with responses that ranged from beefing up patrols to considering emergency drills.

Many governors called for increased vigilance during the Orange level alert, but were careful not to say anything that might trigger another run for duct tape. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), for example, urged residents of his state to continue their normal activities, but with a heightened awareness. "It's important that we stay alert and report anything we see that looks suspicious to our local law enforcement agencies."

Sanford's colleagues struck similar notes. "People need to be aware of their surroundings," Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) said while Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas asked his constituents "to remain calm, but vigilant." And from Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), "At Code Orange, we're asking everyone to be aware of what is going on in their community."

Many states held off calling up the National Guard, despite the Bush administration's call earlier this week to do just that.

In an action called "Operation Liberty Shield," the U.S. Homeland Security Department asked governors to direct Guard troops to step up patrols at airports, some railroads and bridges, chemical plants, nuclear facilities, national landmarks and U.S. border and entry points.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that only six of the 31 states its reporters surveyed had deployed National Guard units. The Times also reported that most states, citing cost concerns, have held off activating emergency operations centers until a specific threat is identified.

But states took other measures. In Connecticut, Gov. John Rowland (R) increased helicopter patrols and truck inspections and tightened security at the Millstone nuclear power plant. Rowland also promised that, "If war breaks out, Connecticut is going to step up its level of readiness once again."

In Montana, state lawmakers were considering evacuation drills and suspension of the legislative session if Montana became the target of a specific threat.

And in Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle (D) created a new statewide homeland security council to better coordinate federal, state and local security efforts.

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri (R) said he was "extremely confident that Rhode Island's state of preparedness is at an all time high."

The federal government has raised the alert level to orange, the second highest of five levels, two previous times since the color-code system was established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. State authorities were placed on higher alert during those periods, about three weeks last month and two weeks in September 2002.

But this is the first time states have been asked to make such a unified response and deploy Guard troops and police across so much of the country.

The National Guard makes up a large part of the reserve forces of the U.S. Military, but the U.S. Constitution gives control of Guard troops to the states. Governors command Guard units during peacetime, but they can be called to active duty by the federal government in cases of emergency and war.

Under an order signed by Bush shortly after the 9/11 attacks, up to 1 million National Guard and Army reserve troops can be called to serve for up to two years. More than 148,000 National Guard and reservists are currently serving around the country and overseas as part of the war on terrorism and the buildup for a military campaign in Iraq, according to the National Guard Association of the United States.

It is not clear how many Guard troops will be called to duty for "Operation Liberty Shield" or whether the federal government will help states pay for the extra deployment. States usually pay for domestic missions, but when Guard troops were called up to patrol airports after 9/11, the federal government picked up the tab.

Federal homeland security funding has been a major source of contention between cash-strapped states and federal lawmakers. Bush promised states $3.5 billion for anti-terror efforts, but Congress only provided $1.2 billion in new funds.

Residents across the country will likely see increased security at symbolic sites and national monuments, state buildings, airports and sensitive transportation sites like bridges and tunnels.

California Gov. Gray Davis (D) ordered double patrols around potential targets in his state, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He announced plans to move state police to 12-hour shifts and begin 24-hour air surveillance of sensitive sites.

"We will utilize every resource to protect this state from any and all threats," Davis said. Earlier this year, the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) deployed new wireless surveillance equipment at some of the state's bridges and tunnels.

A Stateline.org survey of state web sites found that fewer than half the states had posted up-to-date information on the elevated threat of terrorism on their home pages. Nine states Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota and Virginia provided very specific instructions to government offices, businesses and the public on how to step up security to Code Orange level .

Wyoming, one of the 22 states without any current anti-terrorism information on its web site, did have a notice that a snow day had been declared for Tuesday, March 18 and that all city, county and state offices would be closed.