Securing the Homeland: Western New York's Anti-terrorism Measures

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Securing the Homeland: Western New York's Anti-terrorism Measures

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Following the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on America, assessments were made on Western New York’s vulnerability as a target. Its location on the border with Canada, the power grid, chemical companies located in Niagara Falls, and its position on the Great Lakes, all placed Western New York among the nation’s top fifty vulnerable regions.

Efforts quickly got underway to prepare for a worst-case scenario, including heightened training for emergency responders and those involved with intelligence gathering. A new center for homeland security in Buffalo was also created.

The following collection of reports by former WIVB-TV senior correspondent Rich Newberg documents the stepped-up efforts to protect the citizens of Western New York through cooperative efforts among many municipalities and agencies across the Niagara Frontier.

1 WIVB-TV Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg presents an exclusive report on plans for a local Homeland Security Department in the soon-to-be-built Public Safety Campus on Buffalo’s East Side.

The 250,000 thousand square foot campus will house Central Police and Emergency Services, and state of the art forensic lab facilities.

There are also plans for Erie County to join forces with the state for the nation’s largest wireless government communications system. The new system would allow police, fire and emergency medical services personnel to talk to each other.

Hard lessons were learned when New York City firefighters and police officers could not communicate with each other during the Twin Towers attacks.

2 1:01:12 - 1:03:26
The Erie County Medical Center conducts a drill for a radiation exposure emergency. Mobile units are training to respond to a terrorist attack. Concern here is for a potential dirty bomb or bio chemical attack that could affect the health of eighty to a hundred thousand people.

Fifty-thousand tons of antidotes are now in place and could be deployed by air or ground. More protective gear is also on its way to Buffalo. Plans are also in the works to develop a system of mass immunization.

3 Close to a million dollars in new federal money has been dedicated to improving anti-terrorist training and response programs in Erie County. Response to a dirty bomb incident would require declaring the radioactive area off limits for quite some time, depending on the strength of the radioactive material used in the device.

4 The post 9/11 era calls for greater security and more sophisticated background checks of employees at airports.
“Ultra-scan, a new device developed in Western New York, identifies people through finger imaging. Its accuracy is believed to approach one hundred percent.

5 A new state-of-the art Emergency Operations Center at an undisclosed location in Western New York is near completion. (The location is later revealed to be in Cheektowaga).

New York Governor George Partaki, urges New Yorkers not to fall victim to fear.

Deputy Erie County Executive Carl Calabrese, one of the local Homeland Security leaders, says an effective response to terrorist threats rests on “having the right information at the right time in the right peoples’ hands.”

Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner Mike Walters says, “There has to be a spot where major decisions are made, and we have that capability here better than we’ve ever had it before in this community.”

6 More details are revealed about the new $2 million dollar Emergency Command Center where life saving decisions would be made during a terrorist incident or natural disaster. The facility can accommodate 105 emergency coordinators who have direct access to immediate lines of communication, including video conferencing and satellite downlink capability.

A new “800 Megahertz Wireless System” statewide would allow emergency responders from different agencies to talk to each other.

7 A major response exercise is conducted using actors as would-be victims of a terrorist attack is carried out on the campus of Buffalo State College. The drill creates a hostage situation following a terrorist hijacking of an NFTA bus. The Buffalo SWAT Team goes into action.

NFTA spokesman Douglas Hartmayer says first responders believe there may be some explosives onboard the bus. The drill is carried out using smoke bombs, the Erie County Sheriff’s helicopter, and a Buffalo SWAT Team storming of the bus.

The drill is deemed to be successful, due to effective cooperation between agencies and a unified command situation.

8 More details on the drill that started on the streets of Buffalo. WIVB-TV senior correspondent Rich Newberg said “it looked so real it was somewhat frightening.”

The exercise includes a scenario where the terrorists who hijacked an NFTA bus and took hostages, had radioactive material onboard.

Rich Newberg reveals that the Transit Police who gave chase to the would-be hijacked bus, had not been told this was a drill.

9 Another drill is carried out involving first responders from Western New York and Southern Ontario. They dealt with the need for emergency chemical containment should terrorists attack the region. Western New York is third in the nation in the amount of hazardous material shipped through an area.

Buffalo Hazmat Team leader, firefighter Captain Tommy Fitzpatrick, says there toxic industrial chemicals could become a target for terrorists. Six agencies were represented in this drill including the FBI, airport rescue and fire and Twin City Ambulance.

10 More details on the above mentioned Buffalo Hazmat drill that took place at the Training Center in Cheektowaga. Special attention is paid to the potential disruption of a rail line or pipeline carrying hazardous chemicals.

11 The US Coast Guard is bolstering homeland security on Western New York’s border with Canada. Coast Guard Buffalo is about to be equipped with machine gun capability. Since 9/11, there are more patrols on the water.

A new 25 foot fast and powerful response boat is ordered for homeland security in Buffalo. There is also a higher level of cooperation between the Coast Guard and US Border Patrol. Citizen boaters are also being asked to report anything suspicious.

12 More details on the beefing up of US Coast Guard stations. Chief Steven Barr of Coasts Guard Buffalo says the new security boat will be able to turn at high speeds and will be “cabonized” for greater crew protection.

13 FBI Director Robert Mueller, who took over the agency seven days before 9/11, visits Buffalo’s FBI office.
The Lackawanna Six was the major topic of discussion.

Mueller says the men charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda by attending a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan can be considered, in his opinion, a “sleeper cell.” He says the Muslim community in Lackawanna was a big help in brining the case to a successful conclusion.
Mueller also said the US war effort in Iraq was aided by Iraqis in the Buffalo area and across the country.

Relating to another case, Mueller praised the Buffalo FBI office for its work on the James Kopp case. Kopp was arrested for the murder of Buffalo abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.

He also gives credit to the Joint Terrorism Task Force comprised of twenty agencies assisting in anti-terrorism efforts.

14 New York State Police Superintendent James McMann, a Rochester native, is named by Governor George Pataki as coordinator of the state’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The Buffalo-Niagara region is named as one of 30 strategic regions in the country and will receive a federal $10 Million dollar counter-terrorism grant. $8 Million will go for planning, training and equipment. $2 Million for overtime costs in relation to Code Orange terrorist alerts.

15 Dr. Fred Cowie, an anti-terrorism expert, conducts as seminar in Buffalo. He is wearing orange prison garb and is handcuffed. He looks just like the Unabomber Ted KaczynskI and was once arrested by a police officer who mistook him for the suspect responsible for killing three people and injuring twenty-three others during bombings in various parts of the country between 1978 and 1995. He is from the same Montana town where Kaczynski was jailed.

Cowie gets the attention of emergency planners attending the session to learn the latest in anti-terrorism training techniques.

Former FBI Agent In Charge Bernie Tolbert also addresses the group. He is now running security for the NBA. He says big sports venues such as arenas and stadiums need to step up security.

16 More on the homeland security seminar mentioned above. Dr. Fred Cowie says, ”We have to find new ways, exciting ways to deliver the message and say ‘hey, that flammable liquid that took down the World Trade Center, that’s the same one your cop car is going to be pulling up to in a gasoline truck.”

17 The “nerve center” of Erie County’s emergency response operations is officially put into service. The Emergency Operations Center offers a high tech response to the worst of disasters. The center is located on Broadway in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga. The center is equipped with a 105 seat training auditorium.

18 More on the Erie County Emergency Operations Center which will help coordinate responses by the county’s five thousand volunteer fire fighters and EMS providers.

19 The position of Buffalo Disaster Coordinator falls victim to budget cuts. Jack Sneiderhan was in working on an $880,000 thousand dollar grant for the city’s disaster efforts when his job was eliminated.

Plans are in the works for Erie County to take over Buffalo Police and fire dispatch functions. It will all be housed under one roof in the soon-to-be built new public safety campus on Buffalo’s East Side.

John Gibb, head of the New York State’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Task Force says the Western New York region has become a model for inter-agency, inter-regional cooperation. He is the point man for two $10 Million dollars grants to the Buffalo-Niagara region.

20 More on plans to put regional police and fire dispatchers under one umbrella in a Homeland Security campus being developed.

21 Erie County works to link up core buildings under one surveillance system. A new control center has the capacity to monitor 500 cameras. Erie County’s Public Works Commissioner Maria Lehman calls it “one stop shop surveillance for everything that’s going on in the buildings.”

22 A new million dollar alarm and communication system pinpoints the fire on any given floor in Buffalo’s major high-rise buildings. On every floor, firefighters have direct contact with the Control Center and are no longer dependent on cell phones.

23 New York State Homeland Security Chief Jim McMahon announces that $5.5 Million dollars in anti-terrorism funding is on its way to Erie County.

Some of the funds are earmarked for anti-terrorism training. Some of the training will take place on a new Public Safety Campus on Oak Street. The building is nearing completion. A top priority in spending will also go toward a new Rescue One truck for Buffalo. It will be equipped to respond to a terrorist attack. Money will also be spent on new protective gear for Buffalo firefighters responding to hazardous situations.

24 More on Homeland Security funds for Erie and Niagara counties. The state will pick up $2 Million dollars in labor costs for dispatchers.

25 Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg gives Western New York its first look at plans for a new $31 Million dollar Regional Training Center at Oak and Elm streets in Buffalo.
The first building designed to house local Homeland Security departments and a state-of-the-art forensic lab.

The new Training Center will bring in ECC criminal justice students and potentially offer anti-terrorism training for officers across the Northeast. An outdoor training facility simulating terrorist situations is another high priority.
A quarantine center is tops on the Erie County Health Department’s list.

Erie County is also looking to partner with the University at Buffalo to make Western New York a “Region of Excellence” for terrorism research.

26 New York State is ready to award a contractor to install America’s most advanced emergency communications network. It would allow first responders from different agencies to communicate with one another. Erie County Deputy Erie County Executive Carl Calabrese says the new Public Safety campus could potentially serve as the “brain center” for the new system.

27 A new approach to tracking victims of a biological attack is being developed in Erie County. A system using mobile computers at hospital bedsides would feed information into a central site for instant analysis.

Mike Moskal of the Calspan UB Research Center says it would be possible to prevent the spread of a disease further or start treating patients faster.

Paramedics would also be able to electronically record information while a patient is being transported to a hospital.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Anthony Billittier says health officials need information to determine if there is a disease spreading or victims are suffering from a terrorist event.

28 Western New York’s most spectacular tourist attractions, including the Maid of the Mist boat ride at Niagara Falls, have become a major security concern.
All ports and vessels must soon comply with new safety regulations.

Training sessions are held warning venue owners what to look for as tourists enter their attractions. Checking passengers for weapons on cruise vessels and tourists boats and security cameras are among the security measures taken.

29 More on anti-terrorism training sessions for tourist operators of major attractions on the Niagara Frontier.
Emphasis is placed on monitoring suspicious behavior of tourists, not their skin color, cultural attire or ethnic background. Training should be made available to the ticket-taker to the deckhand.

All of the nation’s ports and vessels must soon comply with tighter security measures. The belief is that terrorists will try to find the venue that is not protected.

30 Another major federally-funded drill has a hundred emergency responders from Western New York training for major “dirty bomb” attacks. The exercise includes the scenario of an attack on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. The drill takes place at the Emergency Operations Center in Cheektowaga.

Public Health agencies are notified. A decision is made to shut down traffic on the Thruway. The drill is conducted by federal emergency experts from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

In the drill, the Boulevard Mall is targeted by terrorists. There is also another threat on the New York State Thruway.

The exercise provides an opportunity for emergency responders from different agencies get to know each other. Representatives from Canadian agencies, including the Niagara Region Public Health Department, took part in the session. The exercise took a year to plan.

31 More on the above drill, testing the ability of emergency responders to handle a terrorist “dirty bomb” attack on the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and Boulevard Mall in the Town of Tonawanda. A decision is made to keep people sheltered in their homes and businesses.

The exercise includes a mock TV news anchorman who presents updates as the drill unfolds. The idea is to help define the information that citizens would need to know for protection. The lines of communication during a crisis situation is a critical element that must be considered.

32 A plan is put forward to consider a state-of-the art training center at the Niagara Falls International Airport.
The piece opens outside of Rochester, New York where a drill is underway, challenging firefighters from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to respond to a mock-up 737 plane whose cabin is on fire. It simulates a terrorist attack.

Deputy Erie County Executive Carl Calabrese attends the drill. He is considering a joint proposal that would have Erie and Niagara Counties building a training center on land at the Niagara Falls Airport. A feasibility study is underway. There is a long history of mutual aid.
34 More on the above story that includes graphic video showing response training for a terrorist attack on an airplane. It is pointed out that computers often drive training programs like this one. In this exercise, sensors show whether the firefighting techniques employed are effective.

WIVB-TV senior correspondent Rich Newberg shows viewers what it looks like inside the cabin of the mock-up plane after flames were extinguished.

The NFTA firefighters are given a good review by a training instructor.

Date

Post 9/11/2001

Source

Rich Newberg Reports Collection

Publisher

Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (publisher of digital)

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Copyright held by WIVB-TV. Access to this digital version provided by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Videos or images in this collection are not to be used for any commercial purposes without the expressed written permission of WIVB-TV and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Users of this website are free to utilize material from this collection for non-commercial and educational purposes.

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Digital collections of the B&ECPL.

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Moving Image

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video/mp4

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