The Federal Bureau of Investigation has put the nation on an orange alert status, indicating that threats to private citizens from terrorists may be imminent.
The warning system has three levels of concern: yellow, orange and red. Under a yellow alert, the FBI notified sends out notices to law enforcement officials in areas suspects of possible terrorist activity. A yellow alert means there is a significant risk of attack. An orange alert causes numerous increases in security, such as the locking down of possible targets, and under this provision, the U.S. Government could put the military on notice to back up local law enforcement agencies in case of an attack. Red alert, the highest level of concern, means that an area is under severe risk of attack.
One effect of the orange alert status in Hudson County was the locking down of water facilities such as reservoirs, sewerage treatment plants and other venues that could be used as a distribution vehicle for biological or chemical weapons.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the state has issued a variety of measures to secure water treatment areas, including the installation of video cameras and barbed wired fences.
Quigley said that Hudson County hospitals are reporting patterns of treatment to the Hudson County Regional Health Commission.
"These reports are not dealing with the diagnosis, just the symptoms being treated," Quigley said. "Hudson Regional puts this data into computers which have programs that will alert us to clusters of activity. In this way we get to scan for possible bio-terrorism activities."
Quigley said the three hospitals she represents in the Bon Secours medical system, St. Mary in Hoboken, Christ Hospital in Jersey City and St. Francis Hospital in Jersey City have teams that meet every Friday to discuss disaster plans.
In a telephone interview this week, Quigley said residents of the county should be "cautious," but not to panic. But there are things people can do to help themselves.
"I wouldn't go out and buy duct tape or plastic," she said. "But I've made sure I have adequate water and food in my house for an emergency situation such as a heavy snowstorm or a hurricane, or any event that would require you to remain in your home for a few days."
This means stocking up on batteries, candles, and other items needed in case power should go out, and to make certain that you have extra blankets and other items that will help you stay warm if the heat should be affected.
Quigley also commented, "We have been talking with people about additional security, such as checking identification of people coming and going into buildings. We've reminded our own hospital staffs to carry their identification with them in case they have to come back. Only those with proper identification will get through police lines in case of an emergency."
Quigley is also encouraging tenants of larger buildings and management of buildings with numerous clients to set up and review emergency evacuation plans.
"They should have more than one plan to get out," she said, "in case the main stairs are inaccessible. They should also check to make sure doors are not locked at the bottom, or that the exit they take does not lead out into an area being used by fire or other emergency apparatus."
Residents in home or offices should also check their smoke detectors as well as the status and location of fire extinguishers.
"You should use common sense, but you shouldn't panic," Quigley said. "The alert means that we should be vigilant."
People who take prescription drugs should also renew their prescriptions.
How to hear
At the moment, various public safety groups are meeting and talking about what to do in case of an attack, Quigley said. Hudson County responded well to the Sept. 11 attack, but that event also showed some weaknesses in the general system, such as communications between various police, fire and other emergency services.
"We have our emergency services talking to each other and devising general plans," she said. "If there is an emergency, we have a command system."
Residents will be notified through a variety of communications. Every radio station would broadcast emergency information, as would every cable TV station.
"The police will also send out vehicles with loud speakers," Quigley said.
In the event of a major disaster, the county's Office of Emergency Management coordinates various groups from medical services, fire and police, and the Department of Public Works in each municipality and county.
"We currently have a snag we're working out," Quigley said. "The way the system works currently is that the information goes to the law enforcement agency, not to the Office of Emergency Management."
Secaucus waits word on terror alert
Because Secaucus is a communication hub in Hudson County, the state named Deputy Mayor John Reilly to the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Taskforce last month. His participation has already borne fruit.
"John Reilly put us on notice that the OEM offices would not receive notice in the event of an emergency; the police departments would," said Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, the chairperson of the assembly committee for Homeland Security and State Preparedness. "This is something we're trying to work out."
Because of the FBI has put the area on an orange alert indicating an increased risk of terrorists attack, the Koelle Boulevard Sewerage Treatment Plant has been "locked down" - meaning that the facility is off limits to anyone but authorized personnel.
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell said in the event of an emergency, the town's own Office of Emergency Management would be activated.
"That order would be passed down from the state to my office and I would set everything in motion," Elwell said, noting that Secaucus has a fully operational OEM of its own with several mobile units, as well as a variety of communications system.
"All of our departments have Nextel radio, and they can be keyed all at once," Elwell said, meaning that if notice needed to reach everyone on the circuit, it can be sent once and all those with Nextel unit would hear it.
Elwell, however, said in larger emergencies, higher authorities tend to take over at the local scene. If terrorists strike in Secaucus or Hudson County, the FBI would take charge of all operations.