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Jeanne Meserve: Safety measures in alert's wake

CNN's Jeanne Meserve
CNN's Jeanne Meserve

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CIA Director George Tenet tells Senate panel that reports point to threats against U.S., Arabian peninsula (February 11)
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The U.S. is urging Americans to exercise caution and focus on personal safety as the nation lives under an increased terror threat. CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports (February 11)
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Interactive: Terror warning system 

• Interactive: Threatcon levels
• Transcript: Official announcement
• Special Report: War on Terror

Have on hand  three days' worth of water and food, an emergency supply kit for both home and automobile, radios with extra batteries, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows and doors
Make a plan for contacting family members in an emergency
Learn about different types of attacks so you will know what to do in an emergency
Do not cancel events or travel plans
Be especially aware of your surroundings and the events happening around you

Source: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison

(CNN) -- Citing credible threats that al Qaeda might be planning attacks on American targets, the U.S. government has raised the national color-coded threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of a terrorist attack.

U.S. intelligence indicates al Qaeda plans to attack targets in the United States and in the Middle East, perhaps with chemical weapons or radioactive materials, CIA Director George Tenet said Tuesday.

Speaking by phone Tuesday from Washington, CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve talked to CNN Anchor Carol Costello about what precautions the Department of Homeland Security is suggesting for Americans to take to protect themselves.

MESERVE: The Department of Homeland Security is shifting its attention to the American public. It's advising citizens that they have a responsibility to take care of themselves and their families, and they ought to prepare for possible chemical or biological or radiological attacks.

Now officials say this approach is being taken because of growing concern about al Qaeda's ability to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction.

The department outlined a series of steps federal, state and local governments are taking in response to threat level orange and said the private sector is doing its part, too.

Examples: Some hotels are checking cars before allowing them to park underground, some office buildings are no longer allowing walk-in visitors and are restricting access to their ventilation, electrical and structural systems, and shopping malls are towing vehicles parked near buildings and making sure all deliveries are scheduled and pre-approved.

All told, the department says it is very pleased with the response to the new threat level.

COSTELLO: And we think it's very scary tips, Jeanne. The government is still asking people to go on with their lives as normal.

MESERVE: They are. And they say they are not intending to frighten people. This isn't supposed to be a dire warning. They're not urging people to run out today to the hardware store and buy the things they're recommending.

But they point out some hard, cold facts, which are that there's only one firefighter for every 280 people, only one EMT or paramedic for every 325, only one police officer for every 385 Americans.

And they say if there were to be an attack and it were to follow along the lines of other emergencies this country has seen, most Americans could expect to take care of themselves for 48 to 72 hours after an incident took place.

So, they said better to be cautious, better to be ready, better to know what might be coming and what you might be able to do for yourself.

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