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Orange alert at U.S. airports

NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports on how the new Orange Alert is changing procedures at the country's airports during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
/ Source: NBC News

The announcement echoed through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport: "May I have your attention, please. The Department of Homeland Security has raised the National Threat Advisory to Level Orange. Orange alert!”

From the departure hall at O’Hare, to behind the wheel in Colorado, Americans went about their business Monday under what the government is calling a “high risk” of terror attack.

There were long lines at Washington's Reagan Airport.  The same at Denver International.  But, officials attribute slowdowns to holiday rush, not security.

Chicago's Roman family, aware of the increased threat, packed a little extra caution heading for their flight.  But, according to Linda Roman, “I am not going to let everything deter my lifestyle or the things we enjoy doing.”

And, that's exactly what Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge urged Americans to do Monday, “We cannot be burdened by threat or fear, we need to be alert to it.  We need to be vigilant to it.”

But some are critical — even confused — saying there isn't enough guidance or information being passed down from the government to the general public.

Travelers told NBC News, “I think the government should tell us exactly what each alert means,” and “They should tell people what this means they should do, otherwise people like me are probably going to ignore it.”

Terrorism expert Charles Pena said, “We may be lulling people into a false sense of complacency that everything is okay, when in fact it might not be the next time the terror alert is raised.”

But security officials say remaining vigilant is everyone's responsibility.

“When Secretary Ridge says it's heightened awareness, it's a heightened awareness for all of us, for law enforcement, for passengers, for everybody to keep us all safe,” said Mike Zunk, the Acting Federal Security Director at O’Hare airport.

For the Roman's, canceling holiday plans in the face of an orange alert is simply not an option.  According to Dr. Alan Roman, “That's not the American way and that's not the independent spirit.”

A spirit they'll be taking with them on a family holiday overseas.

Dept. of Homeland Security Travel Tips