WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- The Bush administration Monday tried to reassure Americans they could return to their normal lives in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but also warned new attacks, possibly using chemical or biological weapons, could occur.
"What the president is working very hard to do is find that balance, to let Americans know that threats do remain. The government is taking all steps necessary to counter those threats, including planning domestically, at home," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on Monday.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks Bush administration officials and those from state governments around the country have gone to great lengths to demonstrate to Americans that it is safe to fly and return to work, even as one of the nation's busiest airports remains shut and officials have stated plainly that new attacks could occur, but without going as far as telling citizens they should obtain gas masks or update vaccinations.
"We've got to make sure that people understand that they're safe, and that we're prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops from any kind of bio-terrorism attack," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said on CBS News' 60 Minutes Sunday night.
"I have three kids and tonight, tonight I'm telling them that they are safe. And my granddaughter who is less than two years old is safe as well."
Thompson told the newsmagazine that eight sites around the country are stocked with what he called "push packages," 50-ton stores of vaccines, antibiotics, gas masks and ventilators. The government has the ability to move those "push packages" to where they are needed within hours. Those stores were deployed to New York after the attacks with enough supplies to treat 10,000 people, but were not needed.
He told 60 Minutes that his plan recognizes the inability of local hospitals to deal effectively with a biological attack.
Hours earlier, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told CBS News that the chances of another threat was possible and that threat could increase should the nation retaliate for the terrorist actions in New York and Washington.
"And we think that there is a very serious threat of additional problems now," he said. "And, frankly, as the United States responds, that threat may escalate. That's why it's important for us to have the tools to fight against terrorism and foreign powers, agents, spies, and terrorists."
Ashcroft went on to say that "You know, you can never know what you prevent. There obviously are risks, and we want to ... be depressed, the risk of further attack.
"As we increase the tools we have, the risk goes down. But if we don't build our capacity to fight terrorism, the risk goes up. And we want to reduce the risk rather than to allow it to remain high."
Last week, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Commerce Secretary Don Evans boarded and flew on United Airline flights in an effort to prove skies were safe, and at the same time urge business and leisure travelers to resume their normal activities.
A decline in the number of air passengers -- a combination of fear of in-flight violence and frustration with long waits to get boarding passes and wind through security checks -- has reduced the number of air travelers. Airlines report they are flying about 80 percent of their normal flight schedules ,with half the full capacity of passengers.
With travel bookings down nearly 60 percent and cruise line cancellations exceeding bookings, the travel industry is fighting to stay in alive. In wake of a slowing economy and recent concerns regarding the safety of future travel, airlines, cruise lines and tour companies are all cutting prices to encourage Americans to once again pack their bags.
``The travel industry is truly a buyer's market right now,'' said Jenny McMutrie, AAA's senior director of travel sales. ``Some airfares and cruise packages are at levels we have never seen before.''
American Airlines resumed curbside check-in Monday with permission of the Federal Aviation Administration, which had halted the practice as a condition of allowing airports to reopen.
On Sunday a contingent of governors -- Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Ronnie Musgrove of Missisippi, Paul Patton of Kentucky, Don Sundquist of Tennessee, and Parris Glendening of Maryland and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams flew commercially together to New York also to promote travel and tourism.
The White House and security officials may reach an agreement this week on the re-opening of Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington, which remains completely shutdown under security concerns that the flight plan of most airliners is too close to restricted air space over the Washington Monument, White House and other federal government buildings.