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US Cities Take Measures to Reassure Public

Communities throughout the United States have been affected by the terrorist attacks last month in New York and Washington. Local governments have been busy taking steps to make cities and towns more secure, and to help residents feel less nervous.

On Chicago's West Side Tuesday morning, a big bulldozer tore down a long-abandoned house in what city officials call a renewed effort to make the city more secure. They are targeting about 100 empty buildings located near so-called "vital assets" - schools, police and fire stations, public transit lines, and hospitals. According to Chicago's Buildings Commissioner, Mary Richardson-Lowry, this small house fits that description. "In light of what has happened, in light of the fact that we know this building has been used for criminal activity, in light of the fact that it is near not one but two elementary schools and not far from a police station, this is clearly something we would identify as a vital asset," she explains.

City officials say they are not very afraid that would-be terrorists might use abandoned buildings as meeting-places. They say the demands of monitoring these buildings or fighting drug use or arson that sometimes occurs within them strains public safety resources. According to Ms. Richardson-Lowry, the city is also concerned that some people might set these buildings on fire to see their work on the evening news. "We have a concern with those who try to replicate, those who try to make a name for themselves, those who take advantage of the times and say, 'I want the attention as well.'"

She cited the case of a security guard in Chicago who telephoned numerous bomb threats against the Sears Tower in the hours after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The first Tuesday of every month is when most cities and towns in the state of Illinois test their emergency-warning sirens. The horns are used mostly to warn of tornadoes or other dangerous weather conditions, but the state's emergency management office suggested communities skip the tests this month. Emergency Agency spokeswoman Chris Tamminga says, "I think we were interested in, one, not confusing the general public and, two, we didn't want to unnecessarily panic anyone."

Ms. Tamminga notes the state will decide later this month whether to ask next month's siren tests be canceled as well.

In Washington, the Federal Communications Commission has asked radio and television stations nationwide not to conduct their weekly tests of the Emergency Alert System. Officials felt that in light of the attacks, the loud tone accompanying those tests might make some Americans fear there had been another incident.