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March 18, 2003   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 18, 2003

WASHINGTON-- In the wake of the announcement that the terrorism alert category had been raised to orange, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said USDA is moving to protect the food and agriculture sectors as well as department employees and facilities. Since Sept. 11, 2001, USDA has worked with federal, state and local agencies to strengthen infrastructure, better prepare for emergencies, and improve coordination and response mechanisms.

USDA has hired 20 new "import surveillance liaison" (ISL) inspectors, specifically focused on food security, to be deployed at strategic points of entry to re-inspect imported meat and poultry products, said Veneman. "We have increased resources for research on priority threat agents. We are strengthening our network of accredited laboratories for detection, identification and diagnosis and increasing research programs related to various biological agents and technology that could be utilized for early detection."

This includes providing additional resources to states and land grant universities. "Our experts have provided security guidelines for producers, processors and food providers in order to strengthen system at the local level. And, USDA has worked with other federal agencies in conducting various interagency, intergovernmental exercises to further test our systems," she added. Veneman said USDA will:

* Alert all USDA employees of the new threat level and advise them to take extra measures including the need to wear identification at all times, to escort all visitors to and from meetings at all USDA facilities and to inspect all vehicles parking at USDA facilities;

* Place USDA law enforcement officers and agents on alert status to ensure they are prepared to respond immediately if needed;

* Activate incident response teams which are deployed to an emergency site to begin management of the incident, to standby status;

* Coordinate with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, military and Coast Guard to protect facilities and to confirm that communication liaisons are in contact;

* Prepare to execute Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) so that critical USDA functions to protect the food and agriculture systems continue in the event of an emergency;

* Increase perimeter security at all USDA facilities and restrict access to essential personnel at key USDA facilities;

* Restrict public events at USDA facilities such as tours and lectures;

* Alert industry and producer organizations of the threat status and urge them to implement additional security measures such as inspecting all vehicles entering facilities and operations and escorting all visitors.

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