Local, state agencies taking precautions for heightened alert

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2003

Adams County officials are being more vigilant in the days before Christmas, following the upgraded terror alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security Sunday.

&uot;We’re not doing a lot of things differently,&uot; said George Souderes, civil defense director for Adams County. &uot;We’re being more vigilant and more aware.&uot;

Among the concerns for the Miss-Lou, Souderes said, are the Mississippi River bridge and two nearby nuclear power plants &045; Grand Gulf to the north and Riverbend to the south.

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&uot;I’ve talked to (the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency,&uot; Souderes said. &uot;They’ve beefed up security.

&uot;It’s just a matter of being more leery, more aware of what might could happen,&uot; he said, noting Natchez no longer has any chemical plants of high volume, with International Paper and Ethyl both closed.

And Souderes urges people to keep their holiday travel plans, although they should leave extra time to go through security.

In Concordia Parish, extra sheriff’s patrols are already on duty because of the holiday, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kathy Stevens. Those deputies are primarily on watch for drunk driving and underage drinking, she said. &uot;We’ve got that covered,&uot; she said.

Across Mississippi, officials say they are increasing patrols at the Jackson International Airport in the wake of the heightened terror alert.

Larry Rowlett, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration, said Monday there will be more walking patrols outside the airport and within the facility. &uot;We want to take more vigilant action,&uot; Rowlett told an airport news conference one day after the government raised the national threat level and said attacks were possible during the holidays.

A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says security has been tightened at other airports in the state and that local and state agencies, as well as the private sector, are being provided information as it becomes available from Department of Homeland Security.

Rowlett said officials were also asking the public to be more aware of their surroundings, especially because of the increased holiday traffic.

There are 106 screeners at the airport in Rankin County, about a dozen less than last year.

He said that as the volume of travelers increases, it makes the job of the screeners &uot;more tedious.&uot;

In New Orleans, security at the Superdome, the site of the Sugar Bowl where the national college football championship could be decided, already had been boosted before the national security alert was raised.

While declining to divulge details, Superdome spokesman Bill Curl said Monday that security preparations were tightened for the Jan. 4 game after Louisiana State University was invited to the game, promising a sellout and large crowds around the stadium.

&uot;We ratcheted up security in the last couple of weeks anticipating a big demand for the game, and larger crowds when LSU was invited to the game. We will continue to evaluate the situation,&uot; Curl said.

The 2002 Super Bowl at the Superdome, staged just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, had National Guard troops patrolling the area, sharpshooters standing atop the stadium and a no-fly zone around the stadium.

Curl said the Superdome planned to advise fans about security procedures that would affect them for the Sugar Bowl later. He refused to discuss details Monday.

Police were giving security plans for the Sugar Bowl a second look, said Capt. Marlon Defillo, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department.

&uot;We may go back and rethink some of the security plans that we currently have because of the increased level,&uot; Defillo said.

New Orleans has not received any terrorist threats, but officers are now monitoring more closely &uot;high-profile sites around the city that we have deemed to be possible targets,&uot; Defillo said.

Defillo said security at public buildings will be tighter.

&uot;Going into a government building, you’re going to be challenged,&uot; Defillo said. &uot;You’re going to be asked for your identification. Your car may not be allowed in the parking garage. The packages that you carry might be searched by the officials who are stopping you.&uot;

Department of Homeland Security officials say al-Qaida terrorists still want to use airplanes as weapons and are seeking weaknesses in airport security procedures.

At the Louis Armstrong International Airport, officials began random searches of vehicles Monday, as well as strict enforcement of a ban on vehicles waiting outside the terminal to pick up passengers, said airport spokeswoman Michelle Duffourc.

More uniformed officers also will be on duty, she said.

&uot;That’s really all the traveling public will see,&uot; she said.