July 04, 2007
New Terror Threat: Are We Safe?
Could it happen again?
That's the thought looming in the minds of scores of Americans this week as word spread of thwarted terror attempts in London and Glasgow. And, with authorities overseas stepping up efforts to apprehend suspects, other questions are raised on American soil: Six years after 9/11, is the nation prepared for a terrorist attack? And what's being done on the East End to ensure public safety?
On Plum Island Congressman Tim Bishop and Senator Hillary Clinton announced that agents from the Federal Protective Service have once again been assigned to help safeguard the Plum Island Disease Center; the government has identified the island as a terrorist target. Bishop said earlier this year that he and Clinton had written to Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, asking him to reconsider a decision to remove FPS agents from the facility.
A 2003 report from the Government Accountability Office was critical of the security in place at Plum Island and urged an upgrade, said Bishop. Plum Island, he said, is "a high sensitivity facility, and ought to be secured at the highest possible level – common sense tells you that."
After "pretty strenuous advocacy" on the parts of Clinton and Bishop, it was decided last week that an FPS officer will be assigned to protect Plum Island. Additionally, Clinton and Bishop said that DHS is working to establish a permanent FPS presence on the island as soon as possible.
"This was the right decision for the Department of Homeland Security to make. While I still cannot understand their reasons for removing the Federal Protective Service from Plum Island, I am very pleased that they have reconsidered and reinstated their officers at the facility," said Clinton in a statement. "Plum Island continues to serve a vital role in our nation's biodefense."
Bishop said in light of recent events overseas, increased security at Plum Island is critical. The recent terror threat, he said, "just underscores what a dangerous world we live in. We can take nothing for granted. A trip to the airport should be something we can take for granted, but we can't do that."
All the more reason, he stressed, that a highly sensitive facility such as Plum Island needs to be secure.
While enhanced Plum Island security is a plus, on a local level, when asked the question of just what is being done to ensure safety, the bottom line is the issue needs to be addressed.
At Gabreski airport in Westhampton Beach officials said that while they hadn't received word from the federal government to elevate their security levels, they were being more "vigilant" in light of the events in Glasgow.
East Hampton Airport manager James Brundige did not return calls for comment by press time.
"We're not trying to draw attention to ourselves," said Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney. "Town Hall is a public building and people can come and go. We have security cameras, but we don't have armed guards at every one of the entrances. If we can achieve anonymity and not draw attention to ourselves, that's what we'd prefer."
As for spots in town the supervisor believes are most vulnerable, he said, "Supermarkets. Who's providing security in a supermarket?"
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said that stemming from the terror attacks on 9/11, the town has been involved in terrorism seminars, with local resources tied into county and state resources as they relate to any kind of threat.
The response in the event of crisis, said Nuzzi, would be "better, because we've had six years to really take from that experience and put together an action plan that's a little more progressive and pro-active. Southampton residents need to be aware. Just because we're on the eastern end of Long Island doesn't mean we don't have to be cognizant of threats."
In Riverhead, Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale said he had spoken with Town Police Chief David Hegermiller and discussed the town's general emergency preparedness plan and asked for any additional thoughts in regard to enhancement; the town board will discuss suggestions at its work session this week.
In East Hampton Bruce Bates, director of emergency preparedness, said that despite the weekend's terror threat abroad, "At this point, everything is pretty much status quo. Our threat level hasn't been elevated. As far as what we have in our area, we have not stepped up anything." Bates wanted to alleviate residents' fears. "We're in constant communication with county officials, who speak with state of officials. There's a sharing of information. It's not like we're just standing around, not knowing what's going on. If any action is needed, that's what's taken."
On the county level, the Suffolk County Police Department has a four-step system of alertness, which is adjusted based on national, international and local events.
"Our proximity to New York City and our Long Island population of more than three million requires heightened security and added diligence whenever national or international terrorism occurs," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.
During heightened awareness periods, patrols make additional checks of vulnerable entities, including train stations, airports, ferries, public utilities and major shopping centers to carefully look for unusual circumstances. The SCPD also works closely with federal and state homeland security, as well as serving as a conduit for local town and village police forces.
Cardinale said that after the weekend's events, terror has once again reared its ugly head on the East End. "We are aware of it. You have to keep your eyes wide open, and still you're in danger, I'm afraid."
White House press secretary Tony Snow said this week that after the weekend's events in Britain, the president was "fully briefed" and continues to be so, despite the fact that he is at Kennebunkport.
Despite the foiled terror plots, Snow said, "There is no indication of any specific or credible threat to the United States, no change in the overall security level." That said, Snow added that in the United States, at airports there are "alertness raising measures" invoked by the Transportation Security Administration, including the increased presence of police or TSA employees, which will likely translate into longer lines and increased inconvenience at airports at a time when scores of passengers are traveling for the July 4 holiday.
Snow added that airports have been under an orange level since August, and that won't change.
"It's important not to get people too spun up," said Snow. "It's also important, though, to reassure folks at a time like this. When you're in a global war on terror, you want to make sure that you're not only reassuring the public by practicing every bit of diligence you can, but making sure that everybody is being vigilant about what may be coming up."