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Official: Smart cameras, armed guards to protect WTC site

Associated Press | February 25, 2006
By AMY WESTFELDT

NEW YORK -- Some day, at the new and rebuilt World Trade Center site, visitors might submit to an iris scan or an analysis of their thumb print to get into buildings, while smart cameras try to match their faces to a photo database of known terrorists. Well-paid, armed guards would be on patrol while sensors test the air for lethal gases.

Preliminary details of a plan to make the redeveloped 16-acre site as terrorism-proof as possible were provided to The Associated Press this week by former FBI agent James Kallstrom, Gov. George Pataki's senior counterterrorism adviser. Kallstrom and city and federal officials are aiming for a standard of security that doesn't yet exist in public spaces around the nation.

"This'll be reflective of the times we live in," said Kallstrom. "The consequences of attacking here could have more significance to the terrorists. It has a lot of symbolism. It's going to be extremely well protected."

The plan is taking shape while construction is set to begin this spring on a memorial to the 2001 terrorist attacks and the Freedom Tower, a 1,776-foot skyscraper that some say is having trouble attracting tenants because of security concerns. A transit hub, performing arts center and more office towers are also planned.

The security officials _ working with a high-tech firm that provided security at the Athens and Salt Lake City Olympics _ are also trying to avoid embarrassing public disputes. Last spring, architects working for developer Larry Silverstein were forced to completely redesign the Freedom Tower after the NYPD publicly aired concerns that the building might not withstand a truck bomb.

Kallstrom, who Pataki assigned to oversee a ground zero security plan amid the controversy, said law enforcement officials were now cooperating.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site and has its own police force, could share responsibility for the site with city police and highly trained, armed security guards.

"These will not be minimum-wage people," Kallstrom said.

NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne wouldn't comment on how city police might be involved in the trade center site, saying only that a counterterrorism division team is reviewing "plans for potential vulnerabilities of new construction and existing structures" throughout New York. Port Authority spokesman John McCarthy said the agency would likely follow Kallstrom's recommendations, which may not be complete for a year.

The security questions at one of the most complex building projects in the nation range from fireproofing buildings and security on trains to the managing of millions of tourists.

Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims have lobbied to redesign the memorial and underground museum, saying it would be safer above ground.

"I feel that this is a disaster waiting to happen," said Sally Regenhard, who founded the Skyscraper Safety Campaign after her firefighter son was killed at the trade center. "Putting something like this below the ground is a very, very bad idea."

Kallstrom said the current memorial design "is more than adequate. We've looked at it every which way."

Some of the technology under discussion for the site is still emerging, Kallstrom said, like the surveillance cameras that would load software with pictures of suspected criminals or dangerous weapons and match them against pictures of strangers.

Sensors to test for possible bioterrorism could be used both inside buildings and in open spaces like the memorial plaza.

Kallstrom said the latest signal-boosting equipment for emergency radios would be built into towers, to avoid a repeat of the communication breakdowns that happened between first responders on Sept. 11.

"You don't want the fellas going up the attack stairwell and not being able to talk to the battalion commander," Kallstrom said.

Silverstein, who is breaking ground on the Freedom Tower in April, has said it will be the safest in the world, and has already followed recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for measures like wider stairwells, emergency lighting and concrete fireproofing of elevators in his building at 7 World Trade Center.

Silverstein and the Port Authority have said construction will exceed city building and fire codes, but the agency-owned site has never been legally required to submit to city inspections.

"No building should ever be above the law," said Regenhard, who wants regular city inspections of everything being built on ground zero. Shyam Sunder, who headed a trade center investigation for NIST, said agencies "should not use self-approval for code enforcement."

McCarthy said the Port Authority welcomes city inspections at any time, and said the agency keeps the city apprised of its plans. But a spokeswoman for the Buildings Department, Jennifer Givner, said the city officially has not received blueprints for any work at the site, and wouldn't conduct inspections unless that happened. McCarthy said Saturday that the Port Authority would send the blueprints to the city early next week.

While Kallstrom said the security on the 16 acres would be a plan that city police or others could emulate, he said it may not become a model for New York because ground zero is unique.

"Because this site has been hit before," said Kallstrom, "it's getting a higher dose of security."


Last modified February 27, 2006




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