In the four months since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., communities throughout the United States have beefed up local security and updated their emergency response plans. The Midwest U.S. city of Chicago has spent a lot of extra time and money on safety since last September.
One of Chicago's latest security improvements is a test tone on the new Chicago Emergency Alert System. Much like a similar federal system that has been operational for years, the Chicago system would give local officials access to all radio and television stations in the area within minutes of a major emergency. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says such emergencies could include a nuclear incident or the release of a chemical agent over part of the city. "Our view of the world has changed since September 11. We can all envision situations in which an advance warning of just a few minutes can save thousands of lives," the mayor said.
Police Chief Terry Hillard says Chicago has been updating its terrorist target index, an informational list for local emergency officials about more than 2,000 buildings in the area that could be attacked. It includes facilities such as government buildings, schools, and offices of religious or ethnic organizations. "This city remains on high alert, and what was ordinary before 9-11 [September 11] is no longer. We will continue to ask the public for information, no matter how insignificant it may seem. The only thing that can weaken us from here on, is complacency," he said.
Chicago has also purchased a new rescue helicopter, and portable emergency equipment capable of decontaminating 1,000 people an hour in the event of a chemical incident. The changes reflect what U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says is an anti-terrorism effort that includes every American.
"We have asked law enforcement to carry new responsibilities and to assume new responsibilities. We have trusted people to act responsibly in the face of terrorist threats, to use good, common sense to protect not just themselves, but those around them," Mr. Ashcroft said.
But new equipment is expensive. Chicago officials estimate they have spent millions of dollars on security since September 11. Mayor Daley is including $76 million in new security spending in this year's budget and a time when there is not a lot of extra money to spend. The mayor says the federal government will have to consider helping local governments more than it already has.
"You have to look at that. They have to evaluate it and defray some of these costs that governments are picking up. They have to evaluate that, and I hope they would," he said.
The U.S. Congress has already approved $20 billion in domestic security spending in the months since the September attacks. President Bush is reportedly planning to propose an additional $15 billion in such spending in his next budget. That money would be used to help local police, fire and medical officials meet their added responsibilities while improving their terrorism response plans.
Chicago's Mayor Daley says that kind of help is necessary, as improved security becomes a permanent fixture of American life, rather than a short-term project.