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War prompts tighter security across boro

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With the onset of the Iraq war, security around the borough has been stepped up in measures that have targeted the streets, subways and schools.

The New York Police Department launched its Atlas terrorism-prevention operation, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is instructing employees on terrorism preparedness, schools are conducting drills to familiarize students and staff with emergency procedures, and a hospital has set up decontamination equipment in preparation for a chemical or biological emergency.

Extra security was especially visible over the last week at bridges and tunnels, where checkpoints were put in place, in some cases causing traffic to be severely backed up. At the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges, all trucks were diverted to the Manhattan Bridge for closer inspection, including radiation detection.

“They’re doing more patrols to religious institutions, bridges, tunnels, any public landmarks, the LIRR, stadiums,” said a representative of the Patrol Borough Queens South. “There are other ones that we can’t list because there’s a possibility the bad guys might not know about them.”

Each police precinct has a list of “sensitive locations” receiving more attention since Operation Atlas started, the representative added.

As part of Operation Atlas, COBRA teams that specialize in dealing with chemical, biological or radiological materials are ready to be deployed.

In addition, Hammer teams made up of hazardous materials experts from the NYPD and FDNY are ready to respond to chemical and biological threats such as anthrax.

Also on hand to assist with disruptions are heavily armed Hercules teams, Sampson teams which include snipers to assist COBRA teams, Archangel teams consisting of Emergency Service Unit personnel, bomb experts and investigators, Counter Assault Teams that travel in unmarked armored vehicles called “Cat Cars,” and as many as 4,000 school safety officers.

“There is no city in this country that does a better job of working across the board to prevent terrorism than the city of New York,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. “Operation Atlas is a model for other communities to follow.”

On the subways, undercover teams, radiation detectors and the National Guard are being deployed to help prevent terrorism attacks and maintain order, the police said.

The National Guard also patrolled the borough’s two airports.

The city’s Department of Education issued an information sheet on schools’ emergency procedures and a memorandum on how schools staff should handle emergency situations. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein also put out letters to parents and teachers about what they can do to allay children’s fears about the war in Iraq.

“We have had drills and familiarized our teachers with emergency situations,” said Phyllis Leinwand, the principal of PS 66 in Richmond Hill.

Leinwand said school officials had updated emergency cards listing contact numbers and students’ health information, and informed parents about procedures the school would take in the event of a catastrophe.

At least one borough hospital, the North Shore University Hospital at Forest Hills, took an extra step to prepare for a chemical or biological emergency by setting up a blue decontamination tent outside and preassembling other decontamination equipment.

“Obviously we’re hoping that we won’t have to use it,” said Jeffrey Horwitz, director of the emergency department at the hospital. “But if we have to, instead of having to put pieces together, it’s already set up. Now, instead of taking 10 to 15 minutes to set up, it takes about 5 minutes, maybe even less.”

In addition, the hospital has increased security since the war’s start by locking doors usually left open, checking ID’s and packages more carefully and deploying extra security guards.

“Our main concern is that we’re a hospital, and we take care of patients. The rest of the stuff is kind of a side issue,” said Horwitz. “But it is in the back of your mind.”

Reporter Alex Davidson contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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