THOMASVILLE -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an orange alert over the weekend. It is the second highest threat warning, surpassed only by a red alert that signifies an extreme terrorist threat.

An orange alert means that the possibility of an attack is high. This new alert comes on the verge of the Christmas holidays, which traditionally have been regarded as a time when such an attack is likelty to occur.

In light of the upgrade in the national security level, U.S. departments have urged state and local agencies to be on their toes, adding extra security at public events and areas that could be targeted.

The new alerts could make holiday travel a little more difficult this holiday season, with an increased police presence on highways, and random vehicle searches in some areas. Therefore, holiday travelers should allow themselves extra time for these precautions.

Locally, police have increased their safety efforts as well.

"Ever since 9-11, we've stepped up security and patrols on the infrastructure for the city," Thomasville Police Chief David Huckstep said. There will be a closer watch on important local facilities such as the power plant, the water ways and the hospitals in Thomasville, he said.

"There's nothing formal or informal we go by. There's not a checklist. We just try to take our patrols and security measures up a notch whenever the security alert level goes up."

This marks the fourth time the U.S. has been under an Orange alert. Security risks were also regarded as high during the first anniversary of Sept. 11, after bombings in Saudi Arabia on May 20, and during our invasion of Iraq at the first of this year.

Thomas County Emergency Services have heeded the increased warnings.

"We'll just respond if anything happens," Battalion Chief David Hart said. "I think we need to be safe and take it seriously, because you don't ever know."

Holiday shopping may be affected under the new threat. However, one local store owner doesn't think so.

"I think people will be out there shopping," said Charlotte Hungate, co-owner of Hick's Clothing. "We've got security and law enforcement out there doing their jobs, working around the clock to keep us safe. People are going to go on with Christmas.

"You can be concerned, but you can't let it get in the way of what you've got to do. We put our faith in the hands of the good Lord, and go on with our lives."

Conversely, Hungate still had shopping of her own left to do, and the orange alert won't stand in her way.

"If I lived in New York City, it would be different. But I live here," she said. "Thank God."

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