Homeland Security lowering mass transit threat alert
WASHINGTON – The government lowered the terror threat level for subways, buses and trains after the rush hour Friday, but commuters are likely to continue seeing stepped-up security in many big cities.Thirty-six days after the deadly July 7 bombings in London prompted U.S. authorities to raise the alert, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff ordered the level for transit systems lowered at 8 p.m. local time across the country. His order returned the threat level from orange to yellow – midpoint on the five-color scale – signifying an “elevated” risk instead of “high.”The Coast Guard will shift its alert for passenger ferries from Level 2 to Level 1, which corresponds with the change from code orange to yellow.”While we are changing the threat level at this time, we continue to urge state and local officials, transportation authorities and the general public to remain alert,” Chertoff said. “Public vigilance is very important.””The London and Madrid bombings were conducted without warning,” Chertoff added, referring to deadly train bombings in those cities.Authorities have no credible, specific intelligence indicating an imminent threat to U.S. transit systems, Chertoff said. The alert was raised last month as a precautionary measure following the London bombings that killed 56 people, including four suicide bombers.An estimated 32 million Americans ride mass transit daily. Many transit systems planned to maintain tight security – “or code yellow-plus” – around urban trains and buses.In New York, police officials said the city would remain on high alert, with extra police officers assigned to subway patrols at a cost of up to $1.9 million a week. The New York Police Department also will continue a program of random bag searches at subway entrances, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. That policy is being challenged in a lawsuit filed by five commuters and the American Civil Liberties Union.”We are not lessening our protection of the system because of DHS’s decision to return to level yellow,” Browne said.In the nation’s capital, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority planned to continue patrols and random security sweeps. However, Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said the system planned to cut back on overtime assignments and ease limits on officer leaves.”That’s mainly because since this orange level, we’ve had officers working extended hours – seven days a week some of them,” Smith said.Heightened security measures – including increased police patrols, bomb-sniffing dogs and inspections – come with a stiff price tag, said Greg Hull, security director for the American Public Transportation Association in Washington.Mass transit systems nationwide spent at least $900,000 on security measures each day during the orange alert, said Hull, who urged the federal government to pay more of the costs.”Security continues to be a top priority for America’s public transportation systems and transit systems will remain vigilant,” Hull said.The monthlong alert in the United States targeted only mass transit systems. It marked the seventh time the terror threat advisory level has been raised to orange since its 2002 creation, including last year’s warning about potential threats to financial buildings in Washington, New York and Newark, N.J.Vail – Colorado
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