The Statue of Liberty, recognized around the world as one of the world's foremost symbols of freedom, has been closed to visitors since September, 2001 both for security reasons and because it was in need of repairs. But the National Park Service is planning to reopen the statue to tourists this summer, and in preparation, civilian employees of the National Park Service are learning how to respond in crisis situations in case of a terror attack.
Several dozen employees of the National Park Service who work at the Statue of Liberty, are learning how to protect the national treasure in case of disaster or terrorist attack. During a series of emergency drills, they broke into teams to practice putting out a small fire with a fire extinguisher.
The training also included search-and-rescue operations and a refresher on first-aid techniques. At one station, volunteers learned how to rescue a person who is partially buried by a building collapse.
"You can do it with blocks of wood, lift it up, get enough room, just pull the victim out," said Kevin Morrissey, in explaining the method, called cribbing. "It's a real ancient simple method. It goes all the way back to pyramids, that's how they moved everything back then, just blocks of wood and cribbing."
Some of the trainees are park rangers, whose main job is explain the history of the Statue of Liberty to visitors. Others sell food and souvenirs from the concession stands.
Andrea Boney, a park ranger who participated in the training, says she now feels more prepared. "Right after 9/11, I, probably myself and other Americans, felt so helpless about what had occurred. But with this training I feel confident that should something occur, I'll be able to help out."
Security around important monuments is a key concern for the National Park Service, and the Statue of Liberty is arguably the most high-profile symbol of American freedom and democracy. The statue is located in the New York Harbor near Ellis Island, the gateway to New York City for millions of immigrants over the past century.
Officials say they are making a number of improvements in and around the Statue of Liberty, including upgrades to the fire detection systems and improved emergency exit signs, in an effort to re-open the interior of the 45-meter tall statue to visitors in late July or early August.
Captain Martin Zweig with U.S. Park Police says the changes include "sectioning off areas for public safety, the sprinkler systems, camera, closed circuit TVs, different stairwells for emergency exits, and things like that. The statue will be a much safer environment to enter in than prior to 9/11. These were things that needed to be done and now they have been done."
Fran Mainella, who heads the National Park Service, says the disaster-training for park service employees is designed to supplement, not replace, professional fire rescue operations and security screening provided by the police.
"This training also I think can reassure our visitors that not only are our park police are here to help, but also all our staff, as well as our concessionaires that serve so many of our visitors here, are ready and able to help out everyone. So it's probably going to be one of the safest parks within our system."
But many of the safety upgrades are not yet complete, including sprinkler systems, improved exit doors and smoke detectors. The controversial project is estimated to have cost more than $7 million.
National Park Service officials say they expect up to one million visitors a day at the Statue of Liberty once it reopens.