SACRAMENTO — The nation was placed on its second highest terror alert level for the first time Tuesday, and Gov. Gray Davis ordered extra security at state buildings and memorial events.
“The reality is, all the things we could have done we’re a step ahead by doing it all last night,” said California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick.
The CHP began its heightened state of alert Monday night, and will remain at that level until early Friday morning.
“So far it’s business as usual,” Helmick said. “Do all the things we’ve been practicing for the last year.”
Davis ordered the CHP to beef up security at state buildings and to work with local police to safeguard Sept. 11 events, though he said “there is still no credible threat to the United States, as I understand it.”
Ceremonies at the state Capitol on Wednesday will include heavy security, said press secretary Steve Maviglio, including flyovers by three combat-ready F-16 fighters, both as part of the ceremony and to provide security.
Travis Air Force Base officials said all Air Force bases were increasing security as a precaution.
Davis joined other governors in a conference call with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge before Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft said the nation would go to an “orange” alert signaling a “high risk” of attack. It was the first time the heightened alert was imposed since the system was developed after the terrorist attacks a year ago Wednesday.
The threats appeared most directed against “U.S. interests overseas,” said Ashcroft, but Davis said the government was wise to take no chances since the domestic attacks a year ago.
One of the official guidelines for an orange alert calls for government officials to be prepared to move their operations to alternate locations. California shifted its state operations to the CHP Academy in West Sacramento for a day after last year’s attacks, and is ready to do so again if needed, Helmick said.
However, “there’s been no indication the governor wants to do that,” Helmick said.
As part of the stepped up state actions, about 5,400 of the CHP’s 6,000 officers are working during the higher state of alert, Helmick said. That’s about 50 percent more officers on duty than usual, he added.
Truck weigh stations are open around the clock to monitor large trucks. Local police departments also are on alert.
Mechanical problems had grounded most of the highway patrol’s airplanes, but the manufacturer has lent the state enough planes to bring the department back to full strength, Helmick said.
Those planes, and the department’s helicopters, will be flying around the clock to watch bridges, roads, power plants and transmission lines, aqueducts and other potential targets, Helmick said. Ground patrols also are being increased.
Patrols by National Guard troops and other agencies will continue at the Golden Gate Bridge, which has showed up in terrorist videotapes and in threat warnings passed on by the federal government, Davis said.
State, federal and local law enforcement will continue sharing information through the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, and CHP officers flying on in-state flights will continue providing an extra layer of security, Davis said.
Though there are no guarantees, Davis said, “I believe we’re doing everything conceivable to provide safety to our 35 million Californians.”
He asked residents to go about their lives even as they remember the victims and heroes of the attacks, “but to remain vigilant” and call police if they see something unusual.
The governor also asked residents to be especially tolerant of other religions and nationalities during the memorial period.
“This was a searing experience for all Americans,” Davis said Monday. “We hope and pray it never happens again.”
Davis is scheduled to speak at a 45-minute ceremony at the Capitol Wednesday morning. Davis will call a statewide moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. PDT, during the ceremony.
Also, roughly 30 relatives of Sept. 11 victims from California, and five who survived the attacks on the twin towers, are scheduled to attend the ceremony.