Saturday, February 8, 2003

Hawaii stays at
general risk
for terrorism

Lingle says the state does not
need to match the heightened
federal security level

Staff and news reports

The federal government's increased vigilance for terrorism should have a minimal effect on travelers at Hawaii airports, according to local officials.

While the Bush administration raised its terrorism alert code yesterday to high, or "orange," Gov. Linda Lingle said the state would remain at its own security alert level of "guarded-plus blue," which is two levels below orange and indicates a general risk of a terrorist attack. Hawaii has been at the blue level since Nov. 29.

Going to a higher level would require more security teams, involve more overtime and make it a lot harder to carry out day-to-day operations, state Adjutant General Robert Lee said. Those are additional expenses to government that are not needed now, he said.

Lingle said raising the state terrorist warning level would unnecessarily scare people. She also said she is concerned people would begin to ignore the alerts if they fluctuate often.

Still, the heightened national alert will mean some increased security at Hawaii's airports. Sydney Hayakawa, Hawaii director of the federal Transportation Security Administration, said all cars entering the Honolulu Airport parking structure will be subject to search.

So far, however, local airlines are not issuing new advisories about increased waits at security checkpoints.

Other local changes from the heightened national alert include increased Coast Guard patrols of island harbors and waterways, and surveillance flights.

Shortly after the federal alert level was raised, Honolulu Airport passenger terminals were evacuated for three hours beginning at about 6:30 a.m., but officials said it was the result of a security breach and had nothing to do with the federal action.

Security screening of a passenger's carry-on bag outside the Aloha Airlines check-in found a trace of TNT, said state Transportation Director Rod Haraga. But the passenger had already removed the bag and disappeared into the terminal when a computer reading of a security swab revealed the apparent breach.

A decision was made to evacuate the airport terminals and require passengers to be re-screened, Haraga said.

A sweep of the airport by agents, including a canine unit, found no trace of the unidentified passenger or the bag, Hayakawa said. The security breach could have been a false alarm, he said.

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