Md., Va. governors discuss increasing security


Minutes after Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced that specific financial institutions in Washington, New York City and New Jersey could be terrorist targets, the governors of Maryland and Virginia talked by telephone about how state agencies should respond.

Ridge raised the terror threat level to code orange - or high - yesterday, citing "new and unusually specific" information on possible al-Qaida targets.

While the elevated threat-level applies only to the financial services sector in those areas, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his Virginia counterpart, Mark Warner, were briefed by their homeland security teams and began coordinating state, federal and local agencies.

Washington is the main destination for Marylanders who work out of state. In 2000, nearly 279,500 Maryland residents - 62 percent of those working out of state - had jobs in Washington, according to the U.S. Census. Ehrlich said state law enforcement agencies would also respond to the security concerns.

"Today we have implemented the appropriate steps to protect Maryland citizens in response to this latest intelligence information," Ehrlich said. "We will remain vigilant and responsive for the duration of this current threat situation."

How long that will last, Ehrlich's homeland security office couldn't say.

"That would be the homeland security director who will make that call," said Jim Pettit, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security.

Authorities in Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Charles counties, have been instructed to implement "aggressive, random security measures."

While officials said they could not give specifics on the steps law enforcement is taking, the efforts will include the Maryland State Police, State Fire Marshal's Office, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, Mass Transit Administration Police, National Resources Police and the Department of General Services Police.

Dennis R. Schrader, Ehrlich's homeland security chief, said state officials will remain in constant contact with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council.

In addition, the state is calling for public help - but also urging calm. "We ask people to remain vigilant and report any suspicious or unusual behavior to our tip line," said Pettit.

People with tips can call 1-800-492-TIPS.

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