Feb. 13, 2003 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on increased alert status

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2003

Most people, at some point in their lives, have lived in close proximity to something that can be rather annoying -- airports, busy highways, neighbors with barking dogs, railroad tracks -- but after a time those annoyances blend into daily life and are hardly noticed.

We all have a new noise in our big neighborhood. Our nation remains under a Code Orange ''high risk'' of attack status for a seventh day with no change in sight. Wire reports have government counterterrorism officials saying that the level of threat information pointing to an imminent attack remains high, but steady.

We've read on the wires and seen on cable and network news the reports of federal, state and local governments tightening security and anxious Americans stockpiling food and water, and police responding to scores of false alarms -- including reports of suspicious vehicles that shut down commuter bridges in Washington and New York.

But locally we get the feeling most folks are kind of shrugging their shoulders and saying, ''OK, I guess I'm alert, but acting normally -- whatever that really means.''

Tim Biggane, director of emergency operations for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, said he started coordinating heightened security efforts when he arrived in the office last Friday. He did things like alerting managers of the Carlson Center to be more aware, as high-attendance events can become terrorist targets.

But officials also consistently urge us to continue with our daily routines (as long as the roads aren't coated with freezing rain) and not to let the threat of terror cause too much disruption -- which of course is the goal of terrorism in the first place.

So, ''act normal but be alert.''

But isn't the whole point of an ''alert'' a notice that we should not act normally?

Not completely normal, anyway.

We see lines of cars forming again outside Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base in the mornings and evenings. Spokesmen say the bases are randomly raising and lowering security check demands for access. The idea is that someone interested in doing harm would never know if they would hit high security or lower security at the gate. And in the meantime traffic isn't completely blocked all the time.

Our military neighbors -- as a matter of security -- are not acting normally.

Perhaps then, this is a time when we should consider the condition of our homes, our own emergency and safety networks, our neighborhoods and businesses, and consider steps we might take without electricity or clean water for some days. And perhaps we should view unusual activities and items in ways we have not previously. It seems we should hear there is an alert and take stock of these things -- even if it only means going through something so simple as a mental checklist. The point is that we should be alert, period.

To strive for normalcy seems to run the risk of the ''alert'' blending in with the rest of the noise in our daily lives.


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