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Countdown Begun, Landmarks Are a Security Priority

Davis orders 24-hour air surveillance and doubles patrols of potential targets. O.C. agencies put on heightened alert.

March 18, 2003|H.G. Reza, Janet Wilson and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis, concerned about terrorist attacks in California if the United States begins bombing Iraq, announced plans Monday to double patrols around potential targets, move state police to 12 hour-shifts and begin 24-hour air surveillance.

The move came as government agencies in Southern California and throughout the state braced for war.

From the San Onofre nuclear power plant to Disneyland, local landmarks and law enforcement agencies were put on heightened alert, but authorities said they saw no need to increase security after President Bush's warning Monday that Iraq faces war.

But many Orange County officials said that if Bush orders U.S. troops to attack Iraq, there will be an immediate increase in security at airports, government buildings, military bases, tourist destinations and other places that attract crowds.

Appearing shortly after Bush spoke to a national audience, Davis said law enforcement agencies are moving to a heightened state of readiness but also urged people to continue going about their routines.

"Californians need not be unduly anxious," said Davis, flanked by police, National Guardsmen and his top security aides.

"We're doing everything humanly possible to protect each and every one of you," Davis said.

The governor said the increased patrols will focus on major bridges, airports, the state water system and power plants.

His top security official, George Vinson, said the state Department of Health Services is monitoring for signs of biological or chemical terrorism, and the Department of Food and Agriculture has increased surveillance of the food supply.

"I know it is troubling to people to hear we have a problem and to go about their lives. But we have no choice in this post- 9/11 world," Davis said.

Officials at John Wayne Airport have announced plans to further tighten public access and other security measures beginning Wednesday, the final day that Bush said Saddam Hussein has to flee Iraq or face a U.S.-led invasion. Two airport entrances will be closed and vehicles, whether in the parking lots or on the street, will be subject to search. Camp Pendleton spokesman Capt. Joshua Smith declined to discuss security on the sprawling base near the border of Orange and San Diego counties. But he said military police are authorized to use lethal force to ensure the safety of personnel and families on the base and protect facilities.

Some entrances to the base are now heavily guarded, the soldiers armed with M-16 rifles.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a commercial twin-reactor site owned by Southern California Edison, has been under substantially increased security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Coast Guard and other ships patrol the Pacific waters near the plant, enforcing a ban on boats within a mile of the facility, according to Edison spokesman Ray Golden. A no-fly zone above the plant and adjacent to Camp Pendleton is enforced at all times.

In addition, Golden said, the plant has been constantly changing the "physical look" of its security "in case anybody tries to case the site." At the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, home to the Mighty Ducks hockey team and college basketball's coming "Sweet 16" tournament, managers last month replaced outside security contractors with an in-house staff headed by a seasoned former law enforcement officer.

"We wanted to step up the level of security measures here at the Pond," said Assistant General Manager Mike O'Donnell. "We thought, in light of what was happening [around the world], it was in everybody's best interests."

O'Donnell said a different kind of concern was that television coverage of the NCAA "Sweet 16" tournament scheduled later this month might be preempted by the war.

At Disneyland, which attracts more than 12 million visitors a year and has a staff of 20,000, officials have maintained tight, ever-changing security since 9/11.

"Unfortunately, we live in a time of ongoing, heightened security," said spokeswoman Marilyn Waters. "We have and will continue to undertake strict security measures, in close coordination with law enforcement."

The Orange County Sheriff's Department, which would be among the first responders to a serious threat or attack, had not decided as of Monday whether the agency would open the county's emergency operations center if war begins. Los Angeles police have said they will open their center as soon as war is declared.At UC Irvine, which is on the state attorney general's list of potential terrorist targets, and which houses a low-level nuclear reactor, officials said they've taken steps to make the campus more secure.

"One of the reasons we're on that list is that universities are seen as sort of an open environment," said Marc Gomez, campus director of environmental health and safety.

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