WASHINGTON (AP) – More barriers go up that may never come down. Six-day work weeks with 12-hour days are the new norm for those guarding Congress. People in metropolitan New York and the capital are asked to be alert, today, tomorrow, indefinitely into the future.

So begins a Code Orange marathon, a three-month or longer stretch of expensive, inconvenient, anxiety-inducing vigilance with no finish line drawn. The government has decided this must be the price of safety from terrorism.

In increments that no rainbow of warning colors can measure, Washington and New York are becoming fortresses. Police with machine guns now are visible in the subway, not just airports, and institutions that most symbolize freedom and power are hunkered-down islands surrounded by closed streets, extra barricades, teams of armed authorities or a combination.

In New York, the dog days of August are dogged with layer upon layer of threat and precaution, now spilled over into northern New Jersey.

The new financial-sector warnings come on top of the elaborate security net for the coming Republican National Convention. Both are piled on the enduring trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, and the sense New York City is the high-rise bulls-eye.

No one knows when it will end or whether the government is overreacting. Without a stand-down in sight, officials are encouraging Americans not to give in to alert-fatigue and to understand the need for security extras costing millions of dollars a day.

“We live today on a very thin edge between danger and tragedy,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Wednesday.

when asked how seriously people should take the Code Orange. “People want to kill us.”

And Democrats, while their voices are in full throttle this campaign season against most things the Bush administration is doing, are muted on the specifics of the open-ended terror alert. No one wants to be caught saying the government went too far, only to have something happen.

“I don’t want to second-guess,” said California Rep. Jane Harman, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It will be a strain,” she said of the precautions, “but it has to be.”

Yet local officials are seething. Whether the terrorism warnings are waxing or waning, they see the lines of concrete only grow.

“We ought to be doing these things only in special, urgent situations,” Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams said after the government closed a street between the Capitol and the train station and talked about further expansion of a security zone for Congress.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, added with heavy sarcasm: “Close down all the streets. Close down the city. You can make it really safe.”

“We are fighting to preserve security and freedom,” she went on, “not one or the other.”

The orange alert, signaling a high risk of a terrorist attack, triggers certain broad bureaucratic responses and on-the-ground measures that are tailored to the details of the intelligence behind the warning. It also triggers confusion all around.

It ties up a larger chunk of the federal government than does a yellow alert, the only other color Americans have lived under since the five-step codes were introduced. Most of the country is still under yellow, meaning an elevated risk; New York City has been under orange all along.

Orange means restricting access to threatened facilities to essential personnel. It means making plans to disperse the work force or shift business to other sites. Public events are transferred somewhere else, canceled or at least watched with a hawk’s eye.

Authorities have warned for months that terrorists want to disrupt the democratic process, which means Americans will almost certainly live under orange at best until the November election.

Yvonne Banks, 40, who commutes to Washington from Suitland, Md., says the inconvenience is “no different than street closures for potholes.”

But Scott Putzke, 38, of Sebeka, Minn., walking a block from the White House with his family, found his vacation tinged with tension. “I don’t like having to feel so guarded.”

In March 2003, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said the nationwide Code Orange that month cost American cities $70 million per week. Shawn Reese, who monitors terrorism alerts for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said the government seems to be making no concerted effort to tally the costs of higher threat levels.

The five previous periods of orange ranged from 10 days in February 2002, tied to the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to a month in the spring of 2003, tied to the start of the Iraq war.

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