- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Maryland authorities had to change the wording of an electronic message notifying motorists of a state homeland security tip line because police were getting too many irrelevant calls.
The message initially read, "Heightened homeland security alert/report suspicious activity." Last Friday, the message was changed to read: "Suspect terrorist activities."
"That was just to eliminate any confusion about what the purpose of the tip line was," said Lt. Bud Frank, Maryland State Police spokesman.
Lt. Frank said police were getting too many traffic-related calls on the tip line.
He said some cases like a truck standing under an overpass near an airport would warrant a call. "You want to know about that," he said. "But typically a disabled vehicle on the Beltway during rush hour is not something the line was intended for."
The electronic boards that display the message appear in spots around the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, among other state highways. The message includes the Maryland State Police tip-line number, which is monitored 24 hours a day. The number is 800/492-TIPS.
Police hope that adding the word "terrorist" in the new message and leaving out the word "suspicious" will eliminate the confusion.
Dave Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said condensing the message so it would take up one screen instead of two was also a consideration.
"If you have travelers going by at 55, 65 who are we kidding 75, then you want to keep the message concise," he said.
Officials with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the State Highway Administration and state police decided to use the electronic boards to advertise the tip line. The boards are usually used to display warnings about traffic or weather hazards.
Police said they received more than 700 calls since the signs were activated March 20, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. raised the state threat level to Code Orange, indicating a "high" level of terrorist activity. The federal government raised its threat level to Code Orange March 17.
Yesterday, both the federal and state governments lowered the threat level to Code Yellow, indicating an "elevated" alert.
Mr. Buck said as of yesterday his agency had not received any directions about discontinuing the messages. He said it's possible the messages could remain in a modified form when the country and state is under a Code Yellow alert. "It's likely we'll be hearing something soon," he said.

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