The nation is at Threat Level Orange, and Alexandria's public safety and other city officials are responding.
"We have really been preparing for all types of disasters for a long time and especially since Sept. 11," said Alexandria Police chief Charles E. Samarra. "We plan for the worst case. To that end, we have been going over our own written plans in case of any type of a terrorist attack. Our intelligence personnel have been out in the community talking to citizens, especially those who would be victims of discrimination given the world events. We have been informing them about what they can do to protect themselves and where to call in case they are victims.
"We have also been reviewing Arlington County's report on what happened on Sept. 11, so that we can avoid the kinds of problems that they faced during the attack on the Pentagon," he said.
Most of what the police department is doing will not be visible to the public. "The public will notice more police officers at public events than usual and may see heightened security at certain events," Samarra said. "Most of what we are doing is behind the scenes. We do feel confidant that we are prepared. We are working closely with other jurisdictions around the region and are in daily contact as we monitor the national threat levels. We are prepared for the current level of threat and are preparing for the eventuality that we might go to Threat Level Red."
James Gower, the city's fire chief, is also working with the regional public safety officials and is taking other steps toward preparedness for any type of terrorist attack.
"We have increased the number of hazardous materials technicians in our department from 30 to 70," he said. "This is simply a certification that allows more of our people to deal with a wider variety of situations that might occur," he said.
The department has also ordered new equipment. "We have been able to order more and better equipment through a grant from the federal government," he said. "We respond to between 40 and 60 calls a day, so we are on the front lines and need to be well-equipped." Fire stations around the city are also more secure. "We are requiring that all visitors to our fire stations be escorted," Gower said. "We have seen instances in which someone comes into a fire station and gets friendly with firefighters and then returns to steal an engine or a medic unit. We want to make sure that this doesn't happen.
"We are also instructing our personnel to lock the station when it is unattended and telling them to be very aware of their surroundings as they respond to calls."
ART DAHLBERG, the city's code-enforcement director, talked about what businesses and citizens can do to be prepared.
"People should pay particular attention to securing personal identification, particularly work badges that might allow someone access to a secure building," he said. "Don't leave bags or brief cases unattended, and report suspicious activities or packages to the police." Dahlberg asked citizens to stay in touch with family members and neighbors. "Make sure to keep in touch with those around you and support each other. Keep emergency numbers next to your telephone and make sure that everyone in your household knows about emergency procedures."
Councilwoman Redella S. "Del" Pepper asked at a recent Council meeting about added security at specific sites.
"I see that we have a list of 10 vulnerable facilities in Alexandria, but Arlington has a list of about 100," she said. "I just want to be sure that we aren't missing something here."
Chief Samarra responded by saying, "Those 10 sites are simply ones that are obvious," he said. "We are continually adding to that list and are working closely with our schools and hospitals, among others."
The Northern Regional Commission has prepared an emergency preparedness brochure that has been mailed to most households. "This includes about 15 different areas and contains suggestions for being prepared in case of an emergency," said City Manager Philip G. Sunderland. "It is well-written and everyone should read it."
That brochure is available on the city's Web site at www.ci.alexandria.va.us or by calling the city's office of citizens assistance at 703-838-4800.
SCHOOLS ARE ALSO taking steps to be prepared for an emergency.
Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry briefed PTA presidents last week on measures that are being taken, and principals sent a letter home with children on Feb. 13 and 14. According to the letters, the school system is planning a "shelter-in-place" program among other things. During shelter-in-place, children would be kept at school for as long as or longer than three to five days if public safety officials deem that appropriate. Each school has a three- to five-day supply of water and food for all students, and the system is ordering blankets and other supplies that might be needed.
Many elementary schools conducted drills last week. Each school identified one or more "safe" rooms where children have been instructed to go in case of an emergency. Teachers are working with students to devise activity kits for each child to keep themselves busy during any such emergency.
As school plans evolve, parents will receive more information. "We will certainly use public facilities as shelters if there is an emergency," said Barbara Gordon, the city's public information officer. "Those will be designated depending on where the disaster occurs. We will keep the public informed through the media, our Web site and through our office of citizens assistance.