9/12/01: Local officials maintain varying levels of alert

This story originally appeared on Sept. 12, 2001.

Federal, state and local officials were on varying levels of security alerts Tuesday after the series of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Most schools, agencies and federal buildings remained open, although many reported heightened security.

And local residents were concerned about friends working in those cities.

"We're obviously very concerned about folks at the Pentagon we work with," said Dana Finney, spokeswoman at the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Lab in Champaign.

Employees there were personally affected by the bombings, especially in Washington, where CERL staff members frequently travel and often have contact with people at the Pentagon and other organizations the lab serves. "Everybody's in shock," Finney said.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter occupies 72 floors of the World Trade Center, and its 16 employees in the Champaign branch office are in daily contact with many on the New York staff, said Tom Brown, senior vice president and Champaign branch manager.

"There are a lot of tears around here," he said Tuesday.

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart, Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite and Champaign County Sheriff David Madigan issued a joint statement saying the terrorism is "of grave concern to all Americans. We understand that citizens of Champaign County share those concerns. At this time, we have no reason to believe that there are terrorist targets in Champaign, Urbana or the University of Illinois campus."

They said there was some concern for the phone system being overloaded and asked for the public's cooperation in reducing non- emergency calls.

U.S Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said his "heart goes out to all American families victimized by these senseless acts of violence."

Matt Bisbee, the Champaign-based press secretary for Johnson, said phones rang all day Tuesday, mainly with calls from people wanting to express their opinions to the federal government representative closest to them.

"We heard everything from people blood-boiling mad and ready to go to war, to some who were just extremely sad, to outrage over gas prices. Rep. Johnson has been talking to constituents, too. The messages are getting through," Bisbee said.

The University of Illinois had not put any extra security precautions into place, but could do so within minutes.

"We're alerting everyone on and off duty," said Champaign County Sheriff David Madigan.

The UI's Web site warned students and staff to be careful.

"It is always important to be aware of your surroundings and to immediately report any suspicious activity," the UI said in a message from new Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

About 11:15 a.m., U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey decided to close the federal courthouse in downtown Urbana.

Rantoul Aviation and Economic Development Director Ray Boudreaux said he closed the Rantoul airport at 10 a.m. today after receiving word from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Vermilion County Airport also was closed Tuesday, on orders of the FAA.

At 11:30 a.m., all state driver's license facilities were closed. The secretary of state's office suggests anyone planning to go to one of the facilities today phone first.

The UI's National Center for Supercomputing Applications took extra precautions.

"We aren't accepting deliveries today of any sort," said John Melchi, director of communications.

In area schools, teachers and administrators were on alert, but they were unclear as to the effects of the incidents on children.

"We're going to try to proceed with a normal school day," said Carol Stack, interim superintendent at Champaign schools. "If parents call, we'll do our best to reassure them. If they want to take their children home, it will be excused."

At Urbana High School, a memo was sent out early in the morning with the bare facts.

"We've asked teachers to be sensitive in discussing it and minimize wild speculation," High School Principal David DeWeese said.

At St. Joseph Grade School, TVs had been rolled out and everyone from children to administrators were monitoring the situation.

"Everyone's still in a state of shock," Superintendent Carl Sartwell said.

Market Place Mall in Champaign closed at noon Tuesday and Lincoln Square closed in the late afternoon.



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