Missouri joins U.S. in tighter security

Guards taken in stride as nation responds to terrorist alert.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Armed guards, metal detectors, concrete barriers. For visitors at the Gateway Arch on Monday, it was a setting that’s hardly intimidating, but simply a way of life in the post-Sept. 11 era.

“You’ve got to live your life,” Dan Maloney, 42, said shrugging as his three children hurried him into a gift shop in the museum below the arch.

For the first time since May, the national terror-attack warning was raised Sunday to its second-highest level, or orange, from the yellow level that is in the middle of the five-color warning scale.

The change followed reports that the terrorist organization al-Qaida may be plotting attacks “they believe will either rival or exceed” the Sept. 11 attacks, said Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge.

Around Missouri, people were taking the change in stride, hoping that the latest threat, like many others in the past two-plus years, will soon pass.

For Windy Hicks of Spring Hill, La., passing through St. Louis with her infant daughter and boyfriend on an Amtrak train, no news on the terrorism front was good news.

“Ain’t heard nothing yet — I’m glad about that,” she said. “The longer I don’t hear anything, the better I like it.”

Lambert Airport in St. Louis added vehicle checkpoints and additional guards. Kansas City International added security, including dog patrols. Neither reported significant delays, despite the busier-than-usual traffic that surrounds the holidays.

“Certainly we encourage people to get to the airport a little early because of the holiday season, and maybe just pad that a little bit,” Lambert spokesman Mike Donatt said.

In Jefferson City, a lone officer stood guard in the basement-parking garage at the Capitol. Metal detectors in the Capitol were taken down earlier this year due to budget problems, but some entrances remain closed.

Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers were being extra vigilant, but the patrol had no additional officers to put on the roads, Lt. Tim Hull said. Each patrol zone has a terrorism officer who has stepped up activities, including making sure local police have plans in place.

The U.S. Coast Guard office in St. Louis advised owners and operators of vessels, waterfront attractions and other facilities along the Mississippi River that “you are the first line of defense on the Western rivers.”

The Coast Guard suggested tighter screening, increased patrols and alerting police to suspicious vehicles or people.

“While an event at your facility or vessel may seem innocuous and isolated, it may be a small piece of a larger picture,” the Coast Guard advised on its Web site.

Security was tightened at all national landmarks, including the arch, where extra armed officers stood outside the 630-foot-tall monument. Inside, undercover officers mingled among the guests.

“We’ve been through the drill a few times,” arch superintendent Ken Schaefer said.

Alan Felix, of Waterloo, Ill., visiting the arch with relatives, was more concerned about his son in Iraq than the latest terrorism threat. He certainly didn’t mind the inconvenience of extra patrols and longer lines through the entrance metal detectors. Considering the consequences, he welcomed it.

“I’m happy to cooperate with security and do whatever I need to do,” Felix said.

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