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Americans urged to be alert, not panicked

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Americans should have a "heightened sense of awareness" in the wake of U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan but should not "panic" or alter their normal activities, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

Law enforcement agencies at federal, state and local levels have been put on a high state of alert, and a variety of new security measures are being put into effect across the nation.

On Monday night, more than 80,000 football fans entering the Pontiac Silverdome for a nationally televised NFL game between the Detroit Lions and the St. Louis Rams were searched.

Extra police officers were on duty to handle the crush. Backpacks, large bags, coolers and even portable radios and TVs were banned.

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In New York, Gov. George Pataki announced Monday several hundred National Guard troops will be stationed at Grand Central and Penn train stations in New York City to provide additional security and visibility.

"We're confident this will give the riding public all the security they need," Pataki said.

In Los Angeles, following the FBI's advice to move to high alert, Mayor James Hahn activated the city's emergency operations center Monday. The center coordinates the city's response to terrorism threats and major emergencies such as earthquakes.

In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney has remained at a secure, undisclosed location away from the White House, two administration officials told CNN. He had been scheduled to swear in Tom Ridge Monday as the new director of homeland security; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stepped in to deliver the oath instead.

Ridge resigned as Pennsylvania's governor to take the new post, which was created by President Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said Monday that his job will be to close "gaps" in the country's security systems by coordinating the efforts of the scores of federal agencies charged with battling terrorism.

"The size and scope of this challenge is immense," he said. "We must protect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks."

At a news briefing Monday, Ashcroft said federal law enforcement has been put on the highest level of alert, and more than 18,000 local law enforcement agencies and 27,000 corporate security managers across the country have been asked to consider whether stricter security measures might be necessary.

"We are taking strong precautions and other appropriate steps to protect the American people while we win this war," he said.

Among those steps:

-- Federal law enforcement agencies are in "regular communication" about security concerns with companies providing telecommunications, electricity, banking, oil and gas, and information technology, as well as railroads and water service providers.

-- The Immigration and Naturalization Service has instituted a plan for heightened border security.

-- Nuclear facilities are on the highest state of alert, with additional security posted at plants and surrounding areas. Employees and individuals with access to those facilities are also being tightly screened.

-- The Environmental Protection Agency is consulting with operators of industrial facilities, including chemical and petrochemical plants, on security measures.

-- The Federal Aviation Administration will continue with new security procedures and flight restrictions imposed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

However, Ashcroft said while companies that move cargo or goods are being urged to look at their security plans, they are not being encouraged to stop shipments.

"We want secure operations. We do not want to cease operations," he said.

Ashcroft said Americans should keep alert and report anything suspicious to a law enforcement agencies. But he said that if people curtail their activities or panic, they will be playing into the hands of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"He wants America to be intimidated away from liberty and paralyzed so that we would be fearful instead of free. I reject that. I believe the American people reject it," Ashcroft said.


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