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Stay calm, Leavitt urges Utahns

Just an hour after Gov. Mike Leavitt went on public television to address Utah sixth graders about the war with Iraq, he met with reporters Thursday to spread a message of calm to other residents.

Leavitt, who serves on President Bush's National Homeland Security Council and co-chairs its state and local advisory committee, said Utahns are right to be concerned about the war, but shouldn't let it interfere with their daily lives.

"People can start to feel an anxiety that is not productive. I am not saying it's not right or not normal, but it can be counterproductive."

With the advent of "real time" war scenes played out on television and delivered live, Leavitt stressed the fight against Iraq has taken on an intimacy not encountered before.

"It feels like it is just over the hill, but it is a hemisphere away," he said. "While it is fascinating, dramatic, interesting and of great importance . . . life can and should go forward."

Utah, along with the rest of the country, is on "orange" alert, meaning there is a high risk of terrorist attacks.

In response, Leavitt said local and state public safety officers, in addition to their daily duties, are exercising extra vigilance for anything or anyone who draws suspicion.

While Utah has a disproportionately high number of military — especially the National Guard — serving in the war, Leavitt said 1,700 Guard members remain at home who can be called into service if need be.

There are also agreements in place with other states for the deployment of personnel if necessary, Leavitt added.

Utah has in place an emergency operations command center that allows communications of all state agencies in the event of a natural disaster or other catastrophic event. In addition, Leavitt has a secure telephone line and video monitor that would allow the governor to send an encrypted message to Washington, D.C., if necessary.

As part of the communication network promoted by the Department of Homeland Security, Leavitt is also tied into secure communications with other governors across the country.

On Wednesday night, Leavitt said he participated in one of those teleconferences with other governors just after the United States fired on strategic targets in Bagdad.

On Thursday morning, he was again in communication with the White House about the things "that should and could happen" because of the orange alert status.

The briefings with other governors, he said, will continue periodically.


E-MAIL: amyjoi@desnews.com