- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

False alarms kept the District on edge yesterday, just days after the federal government advised Americans to be prepared for terrorist attacks.
The increased level of alert and heightened apprehension led to several false alarms and traffic headaches.
Early yesterday, police closed some roads as they investigated reports of suspicious packages on the 14th Street Bridge and on an exit ramp from the Roosevelt Bridge, police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said.
The Eastern Market Metro station was closed for 20 minutes after a similar report, leading to delays in the Orange and Blue Line services.
All three reports turned out to be false alarms.
"We are seeing people being concerned and vigilant and we prefer they call us if they see anything suspicious," Sgt. Gentile said.
He said police had enhanced patrols around sensitive government buildings and were working with other agencies in the District to ensure the safety of employees.
Reports of unusual incidents also filtered in from elsewhere.
An airplane headed for Baltimore-Washington International Airport was evacuated at Boston's Logan International Airport after a fire alarm in the cargo hold went off just minutes before takeoff. Officials later said no signs of a fire were found and a suspicious bag was cleared after a canine search.
In Newport News, officials tried to quell rumors that the city's drinking water had been contaminated. It wasn't.
The Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 7 upgraded its color-coded terrorist threat level from yellow to orange second-highest before red.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, schools and shopping malls said they had either implemented or are putting into place increased security measures, and had advised their staff to be alert for anything suspicious.
In Prince George's County, schools were advised to close their ventilation systems in case of a biological attack. In the District, schools conducted an emergency evacuation at 1:30 p.m.
"We called the schools on short notice so we could have the evacuation plan reviewed so staff are familiar with the routine," said Louis Erste, chief operating officer for D.C. schools.
Teachers and staff were instructed where to gather inside buildings in case of a biological attack, Mr. Erste said. Schools had also been told to inventory their supplies and test their emergency equipment.
Metro increased police surveillance on trains and platforms and gave employees a fact sheet on what to look for in suspicious situations.
"We are also increasing announcements in stations, asking that customers join our nearly 10,000 employees in extending the eyes and ears of the police force so they can report anything suspicious at any time," Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said.
D.C. residents flocked to hardware stores to stock up on supplies for protection against biological or chemical attack.
Ling Fan, 32, used a list from the Department of Homeland Security's Web site as a shopping guide at the Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast.
"I am taking this very seriously because of the news and mostly because they cannot pinpoint the exact time and place of the attack," said Ms. Fan, a Montgomery County resident.
Ms. Fan, who filled her shopping cart with duct tape, fire extinguishers and plastic sheeting, said she would rather err on the side of caution than not be prepared for a biological attack.
Others said they would not feed the frenzy.
"I don't need duct tape; I have God," said Keith Hudson, 42. "I live on Division Avenue in Northeast, where bullets fly every night."
Henry Campbell, a retired government worker from Southeast, said he was not going to live in fear.
"This administration is using the heightened security alert as an excuse to go to war," he said.
Parents said they were being extra careful not to alarm their children by overreacting to the alert.
"I don't have a choice," said Iris Toyer, chairman of Parents United for D.C. Schools, who has a son in elementary school.
"It is a constant threat we live with," she said. "Keeping him home would create more fear in our family and he would want to know why he cannot go to school."
Prince George's County spokeswoman Athena Ware said the county would be meeting with school principals to brief them on how to handle a terrorist threat.
Administrators in the area's largest school system in Fairfax County said they had already stepped up efforts after September 11 to combat any threat of a biological attack.
"If there is some biological or chemical hazard, schools know what to do," spokesman Paul Regnier said.
He said school administrators had already discussed the threat with staff and parents, but were not sure what more they could do because no details were available.
"If someone can tell us something we should be doing, we would consider it," he said.
Area shopping malls like Fair Oaks in Fairfax said they had been on a heightened state of alert since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's a continuing process," said General Manager Phil Morosco. "We're looking at ways to improve, not just when the [alert] colors change."
Donna DeMarco contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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