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Houston Metro tightens security

Houston Chronicle | July 7, 2005

Even before the nation's Department of  Homeland Security bumped up the terror alert level for mass transit systems today, Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority was moving to step up security on its buses and rail.

 In response to today's attacks on London's subways and a double-decker bus, Houston Metro spokesman George Smalley said this morning that the agency was tightening security at all facilities, including buildings, trains and buses. Metro was reassigning some workers scheduled for office duty and training today so that more employees could keep watch in the field.  

But Smalley noted that "we can't be everywhere at every minute, so we will call on the public to help as we always do.''

Smalley said suspicious activities -- such as unusual behavior -- and suspicious objects -- including abandoned purses, backpacks, book bags or briefcases -- should be reported to Metro's security line at 713-224-2677.

"Things left on the bus or train could well be innocuous, but they fall into the suspicious category," Smalley said.

The nation's heightened "level orange" terror alert does not cover airports, which tightened security significantly after the 9/11 attacks, and Houston Aviation Department spokesman Roger Smith said that until advised by federal authorities to tighten security at Bush and Hobby airports, "We are doing the same things as before, but with more people.''

"It is self-imposed. We're just raising our security force a little bit,'' Smith said. "Until the federal government raises the condition color - and at this point it is yellow, which is pretty much normal these days - we stand ready to do something different if they tell us to do something different.''

Smith said the measures already in place but being followed with special care in view of the London bombings include checking  unattended luggage, keeping an eye on trash containers and ensuring that vehicles are not allowed to stay outside the terminals unless actually loading or unloading passenger or luggage.

The current measures should not cause increased waits for passengers, who are still advised to arrive about 90 minutes before their flights, or two  hours early on a holiday, Smith said.

Authorities at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport, meanwhile, said they don't know of any cancellations or delays on flights to and from London.  Houston-bound travelers trying to get to London's airports, however, could miss their flights with the city's transportation system paralyzed by today's terror attacks.  

For most of the Houston area, it was business as usual today.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said the county's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is already on stand-by because of the hurricane season. 

 No new police procedures have had to be implemented by the Houston Police Department, said spokesman Alvin Wright.

"Since 9/11, we have been in a heightened state of alert,'' Wright said, adding that many new policies have been implemented since the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington in 2001. In addition to working more closely with the FBI, the Houston Police Department has formed alliances with area utilities and the petrochemical industry.

The Port of Houston, considered a potential target of terrorists because of the large number of chemical plants and refineries, reported no impact today from the London attacks, and spokeswoman Felicia Griffin said the already-tight security level at the port's facilities has not been raised.

"We take all direction from the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard has not directed us to implement any extraordinary measures,'' Griffin said.



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