Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered National Guard soldiers to protect the nation's largest nuclear power plant Tuesday after President Bush raised the terrorism alert level to high-risk code "orange" on the eve of possible war with Iraq.
Arizonans also will see additional security measures at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and as they cross the Mexican border, Napolitano said. But the governor urged the public to remain calm and avoid the fear that followed the last time the alert level was raised in early February.
"We are taking all appropriate steps to secure Arizona's communities, its landmarks and its vital facilities against the unlikely possibility of a terrorist attack," Napolitano said. "The best thing Arizonans can do is to go about their lives. Go to work. Go to school. Just maintain a heightened awareness of your surroundings and report anything unusual to your local authorities."
Napolitano and the other 49 state governors learned about the higher alert level in a telephone conference call Monday with Tom Ridge, the national secretary of Homeland Security. The call came about 30 minutes before Bush told a worldwide audience that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave his country or military action would follow.
Ridge identified specific terrorist threats against U.S. targets during Monday's telephone call, Napolitano said. The governor and other state officials refused to say if any of the threats related to Arizona locations. But this is the first time National Guard troops have been sent to the Palo Verde nuclear plant, about 50 miles west of Phoenix, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Pentagon already has called up about 1,400 National Guard troops in connection with operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Maj. Gen. David Rataczak, commander of the Arizona National Guard. A new unit was activated to handle the Palo Verde patrols, which will continue indefinitely, Rataczak said.
After the governor briefed state legislative leaders Tuesday morning, a couple of lawmakers said it was clear that security experts consider the undisclosed terrorist threats to be credible and serious.
"I think everybody knows that once the bombs start falling over there, they've got people over here," said Sen. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, whose district includes portions of Apache Junction, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Gila River Indian Community. "It's basically being ready."
State and federal authorities were expected to take several other steps in response to the higher security alert in the next few days. Suzanne Luber, regional spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, said local officials were waiting for a federal directive to restrict entrances at Sky Harbor and to search vehicles as they arrive at the airport.
Sky Harbor is holding off on time-consuming vehicle searches as long as possible to balance security with customer service, said airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher. Sky Harbor is in its busiest season, logging 115,000 to 175,000 passengers a day instead of the average of fewer than 100,000.
Even without random vehicle searches, Ostreicher said most passengers need to arrive 2 1/2 hours early for flights.
With most Arizona schools on spring break this week, Napolitano said a larger number of people have entered Mexico and her office is working with federal authorities to keep re-entry lines moving. Additional federal law enforcement agents are expected to be temporarily reassigned to ports of entry to help with more inspections, the governor said.
An intelligence coordination center operated by the state Department of Public Safety is open 24 hours a day and will take phone calls from the public about suspicious activity. The state's Emergency Operation Center can be fully operational within 45 minutes of the governor's order, Napolitano said.
East Valley police are patrolling with more awareness and are adding forces to events such as Cactus League spring training. Police are also speaking with Jewish and Islamic communities about concerns they may have.
After the last change of the national security alert level to orange, there was criticism that the Bush administration had needlessly panicked people as no specific terrorist activity was uncovered. But Chuck Blanchard, Arizona's homeland security director, said Tuesday such orders protect Americans.
"There is strong evidence that changing or increasing security protocols alone delays or deters terrorist operations under way," Blanchard said.