U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's announcement of a heightened terrorism threat advisory on Dec. 21 shouldn't leave you hunkered down in your home for the holidays, but more aware of your surroundings -- especially if you live in high-density housing.
Previous "Orange" or "High" terrorism alerts have come because intelligence points to a heightened potential for attacks against population concentrations, much like the 911 attack.
In Feb. 2003, hotels, apartments and similar structures were specifically pointed out as potential terrorism targets when federal officials raised the terrorism alert to "Orange."
At the "High" or "Orange" level, authorities tighten security coordination efforts with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, National Guard or other security and armed forces; they take additional precautions at public events, possibly considering alternative venues or even cancellation; they prepare to execute contingency procedures, such as moving to an alternate site or dispersing the work force; and they restrict access to a threatened facility to essential personnel only.
There are also steps you can and should take to secure the home front.
Working in conjunction with federal officials, the National Multi Housing Council previously prepared "Guidance On The Recent Federal Bureau of Investigation Threat Warning" with some helpful advice for multi-family development owners, managers and residents. Community Associations Institute also issued similar guidelines for condo owners, managers and homeowners associations.
Here's what they advise: By now your property manager, landlord, homeowner association, or other community overseer should be aware of the heightened terrorism alert and should have instructed employees to be vigilant about suspicious activity or behavior and to report any suspicious activity to the local FBI field office. Residents likewise should be vigilant. As with any crime in process, dial 911 to report imminent threats to life or property. In any effort to ferret out suspicious activity, don't neglect to adhere to fair housing laws that forbid discrimination based on, among other things, race, ethnic origin or religion. Owners, managers and their employees should work to secure vacant units, perform move-in and move-out inspections with the resident or owner and keep an eye out for unauthorized occupants and illegal materials. Property managers should also step up inspections of common areas and grounds and, along with landlords, make sure employees' and contractors' background checks are up to date and in compliance with applicable laws. Managers should also be careful to verify the identification of all adults who are prospective or new tenants -- again, only to the extent allowed by law. Tenants, HOA members and managers also should be wary of suspicious packages and letters and unattended backpacks, suitcases and other containers. Suspicious packages and letters are those that are unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you, have no return address, or have return addresses that can't be verified as legitimate. They may also show a city or state in the postmark that doesn't match the return address, have excessive postage or excessive packaging material such as masking tape and string or have handwritten or poorly-typed addresses.
Both federal and multi housing council officials say additional precautionary efforts residents should take are much like those any household should take to prepare for disaster. Review your housing community's disaster or emergency preparedness plans or develop some where they don't exist. Learn the location of your nearest public shelter. If you live in the suburbs where such shelters are few and you want to build your own, use U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines. Talk to your housing development manager about the safest place in your building to go should you need shelter until it is safe to go out. Assemble a disaster supply kit at home and learn American Red Cross first aid. Separate the supplies you would take if you had to evacuate quickly, and put them in a backpack or container, ready to go. Be familiar with different types of fire extinguishers, their location and how to operate them. Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on that could be disrupted -- electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATM machines, and Internet transactions. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Ignore the fact that previous alerts have ended without attacks.