The U.S. soon could raise its terror alert from orange to the highest level -- red -- indicating fear of an imminent attack, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee. Thompson said the nation is preparing by alerting disaster response medical teams and dividing the country into 10 regions for purposes of responding to an attack. "It's possible we're going to code red," Thompson said, adding that President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security would make the ultimate decision. "There could definitely be attacks" as war with Iraq nears, he said. The current alert level is orange, indicating a high threat. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) questioned Thompson about hospitals' preparedness and said a "gigantic figure" would be required to boost readiness. Hospitals were allocated $518 million in 2003 for bioterrorism preparedness, and Thompson said some of the funds had gone uncollected. "Is that remotely enough?" Specter asked. Thompson said the 2004 budget would include at least the same amount. -- by Jeff Tieman
U.S. terror alert may climb to red, Thompson says
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