New York’s summer of discontent

City firefighters and police plan tosurround New York City’s Madison Square Garden beginning Aug. 30, whenthe Republican Convention comes to town. Some will be on duty, theothers will be doing what they also say is their duty—protestingfederal policies that they insist have left them unable to adequatelyprotect the city.

“We will come to bury Caesar W. Bush, not praise him,” said onefirefighter, who asked that his name be withheld. But his sentimentswere echoed by others, some of whom spoke on the record.

“There’s going to be a lot of discontent by a lot of people whenthis convention gets to town,” Al O’Leary, spokesman for thePatrolmen’s Benevolent Association, told a reporter from the Daily Newsin late April.

New York City firefighters and police charge that the city iswoefully underfunded, getting less homeland security monies perresident—$5.87 per person as of last count—from the federal governmentthan virtually any other state in the nation. The city had receivedonly $84 million from the federal government as of theend of April, asmall portion of the $300 million the state had been allocated infederal funding for homeland security. Officially, New York City’sshare was supposed to be $124 million. The city has been promised thatthe balance will arrive soon.

Even the full $124 million would be just a drop in the proverbialbucket. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city needs$900 million for necessary counterterrorism programs, which wouldinclude funds for compensating police and firefighters forovertime—police overtime is expected to exceed $345 million this year,nearly double the amount budgeted according to a report by theIndependent Budget Office—and counterterrorism training. In late April,a State Assembly committee found that New York City’s emergency andrescue teams have still not been properly trained to handle situationsinvolving biothreats and other hazardous materials.

Particularly painful to many in the city were the committee’sfindings that firefighters and first responders still have aninadequate communications network. Radio failure is now blamed for thedeaths of at least 120 of the 343 New York City firefighters who werekilled on Sept. 11, 2001. The firefighters were not able to receive orhear warnings that were sent over their radios ordering them toevacuate before the towers collapsed.

Sadly, almost three years later New York City firefighters stilldo not have radios capable of reliably receiving transmissions insidehigh-rise buildings, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver(D-NY). And paramedics’ communications systems are plagued with thesame problems—they also don’t work in some high-rises, or in subwaytunnels, Silver said.

So while $84 million may seem like a lot, Manhattan—thanks to itsspecial status as a prime terrorist target and the unofficial businesscapital of the world—has special needs. “Operation Atlas”, the city’slatest security plan, aptly named after the mythological character whoshouldered the world’s weight, is costing the city an estimated $5million to $13 million a week, depending on the current security threatlevel.

Where’s the money?

So where’s the money the Federal Government has promised statesand cities for terrorism fighting efforts? Stuck in cloggedbureaucratic channels, according to some members of the US House SelectCommittee on Homeland Security. More than 80 percent of federal fundingto help local emergency personnel prepare for terrorist attacks is in aholding pattern, trapped within the political pipeline. The rest,according to a congressional report, An Analysis of First ResponderGrant Funding, released on April 27, has been distributed—but in mostinstances has financed programs that are of questionable use infighting terrorism. Unfortunately, the system for distributing the $6.3billion allocated to states for homeland defense didn’t ensure that themoney would be portioned out according to which areas seemed mostlikely to be terrorist targets.

“The system has provided small counties across the country withrelatively large awards of terrorism preparedness money, while majorcities such as New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago struggleto address their needs in a near-constant heightened alertenvironment,” according to the report

Among the “numerous examples of questionable spending” cited inthe report were Mason County, Washington’s purchase of a $63,000 truckto handle hazardous-materials spills. The county is not likely toappear on any terrorist target lists, and in any case it has nohazardous-materials team to work on the truck. Meanwhile the New YorkFire Department has only one dedicated hazardous materials unit for theentire city of 8 million, and Mason County is home to 40,000 people.

Another example of interesting spending cited in the report:$30,000 in counterterrorism funding that was spent on a defibrillatorfor a high school in Lake County, Tenn. for possible use at thedistrict basketball tournament. And the fire department in Zanesville,Ohio (population 25,600), thanks to federal funding, now has thermalimaging technology that allows them to locate victims in heavy smokeconditions. Many NYC firefighters don’t have access to that technology.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, hasintroduced legislation (HR 3266), which he believes will ensure thatfunds are apportioned according to a location’s risk and the potentialdamage that might result if that location was attacked. Officials inNew York City, twice the target of terrorist attacks, hope thatlegislation will result in increased funding locally and more targetedfunding overall for the cities that logically are true terroristtargets.

It would be nice if that funding actually arrives in the city’scoffers too—the report also pointed out that $5.2 billion, 83 percent,of the $6.3 billion approved by Congress since Sept. 11 had not yetbeen distributed.

Funding problems have led Mayor Bloomberg to donate $100,000 ofhis own money to help pay for $7 million in security upgrades to theStatue of Liberty, the inside of which has been closed to touristssince 9/11. Bloomberg publicly stated that the statue should bere-opened even if “you have to have a police officer standing next toevery single person going in there.” There was no word from Bloombergon how the city would pay for that level of highly personal security.

The dedicated professionals—the firefighters, police, lawenforcement and emergency service workers—who actually do the hard workof protecting New York City do work long hours for not much pay, soperhaps Bloomberg’s idea of a police guard for every tourist isn’tabsolutely inconceivable.

Police presence remains strong in the city. Although residents mayinitially cringe when they see conspicuously armed National Guardpersonnel on the subway, buses and ferries, or hear the helicoptershovering overhead, they quickly recover and give the uniformed officersa smile and a thumbs up.

And while it’s a hassle to have to stop for security checks atbridges and tunnels, to stand in line waiting for a pat-down beforeentering government buildings, to pass through a metal detector at amuseum, or to pass by bomb sniffing dogs and guards armed withsubmachine guns stationed at what NYC Police Commissioner Raymond W.Kelly refers to as “prime locations” and sports events, city residentswould rather deal with delays than death.

What residents don’t see is perhaps the most effective security ofall—Operation Atlas has at least 1,000 plainclothes counterterrorismexperts working intelligence beats. The city, for obvious reasons,declines to give details on these officers or their work.

At a recent press conference, following an alert that warned ofpossible terrorist attacks on commuter trains and buses, Kelly said thecity assigned 2,800 transit police officers to protect the mass transitsystem.

August alert

Attention will shift to Pennsylvania Station in August, which issituated directly under Madison Square Garden. The station servesAmtrak long distance and local trains. Bloomberg has said the stationmay well be shut down during particularly sensitive points of theAugust Republican convention, such as when President Bush is deliveringhis speech to the delegates.

Kelly, however, has said the station will not be shut down duringtheconvention, and plans to use local and federal forces, as well asadvanced technology, to protect the station, the trains coming in andout of it, and—obviously—people in and near the station.

“But no matter how well we do our jobs there’s no guarantees,” Kelly said during a recent appearance on CBS’ The Early Show. “We live in a dangerous world.” HST

Michelle Deliois a New York-based writer. She has previously written on the 9/11communications failure at the World Trade Center, where she was one ofthe first reporters on the scene.

Big Apple security: A federal perspective

John Ulianko is ready for the convention.Ulianko is the Federal Protective Service’s (FPS) regional director forthe Northeast United States and Caribbean, based in New York, where heoversees security for federal property.

“The convention has brought us together,” Ulianko said of his teamand the New York City authorities with whom he’s working. “We’restarting to share services.”

A big, beefy native New Yorker, Ulianko’s offices were in theWorld Trade Center complex and on 9/11, at his suggestion, his buildingbecame a triage center for the wounded. Ever since, he’s been workinghis region hard to increase security, constantly driven in his missionby the memory of that day’s terrible events.

FPS is actively participating in New York’s conventionpreparations, although most of the federal buildings under theservice’s authority are near the southern tip of Manhattan, away fromthe convention action, which will be going on primarily in midtown. Hebelieves security has improved, primarily thanks to the willingness oflaw enforcement authorities to share information. Still, much remainsto be done.

To Ulianko, “security is like math, you can always add more. IfI’m asked: ‘Do you want three CCTVs [closed-circuit televisions] toprotect a building?’ I’ll say, ‘Sure, and four would be better.’”Still, he’s unlike other officials, who have complained about theslowness of federal funding.

“The money has been good,” he said. “We can use more. And we canuse more people, of course. But in New York the buildings are moresecure.”

Ulianko and the New York FPS are in a unique position. FPS wasboosted by becoming part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)last March. Prior to that, it was part of the General ServicesAdministration (GSA), which oversees the government’s non-defensepurchasing and runs government buildings.

“Now, when you go into an office and say you’re with DHS, you getmore respect,” he recalled. “When you went in and said you were withGSA, you were just talking real estate.” That shift has helped him inhis cooperation with outside agencies.

FPS’s incorporation into DHS has also resulted in greaterinformation sharing with the formerly independent agencies that make upthe Department. Ulianko cited his relations with the former Immigrationand Naturalization Service, now the US Citizenship and ImmigrationServices (USCIS) bureau of DHS. USCIS officers will now shareoutstanding warrants with FPS. “They can stay on their mission, and wecan help. Intelligence sharing has been better. Cooperation is prettygood,” despite some occasional “growing pains.”

The biggest challenge to greater security that Ulianko sees isn’tin money or hardware: “It’s the attitudes of people that have tochange,” he observed. “We’re in a war. They have to learn not to beannoyed by security checks. They have to not be annoyed by changingsecurity policies—we have to change those polices to keep the bad guysguessing.” In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the FPS discoveredthat thanks to careful surveillance, the terrorists knew more aboutsecurity policies and procedures at the buildings than World TradeCenter employees. That can’t be allowed to happen again.

“People have to understand that changing these security policiesis now normal. They have to partner with us—and we have to find abalance between access and security.”

Whether that balance has been struck will be seen when theRepublican National Convention is held in the city that suffered theworst blow on Sept. 11, 2001.

— David Silverberg

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