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New York City Increases Security - 2003-03-20

In New York City, which suffered the most in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, wartime security measures are going into effect. The city has tightened security on the ground, in the air and on the sea.

Life goes on at its usual hectic pace in the United States' largest city. But signs of heightened security are visible everywhere. National guard troops, police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs are posted at airports, transportation hubs, landmarks and major tourist sites throughout the city. Checkpoints have been set up to inspect vehicles entering the city from tunnels and bridges.

In an unusual move, security has been increased at broadcast outlets to prevent any takeover attempt by terrorists. Emergency vehicles are gathered at central points.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says city officials are prepared for any contingency under a plan called "Operation Atlas."

"Broadly speaking, we are tightening the protective net around New York City," he said. "We are increasing our vigilance at entry points into the city and putting mass transit and other potential targets under greater scrutiny. We are establishing fixed posts as well as directed patrols to landmark locations throughout the city."

New York is also making an all-out effort to protect its waterways. Small armed boats are escorting commuter ferries and the U.S. Coast Guard has stepped up its patrols of New York Harbor. Every day, more than 1,600 commercial ships enter the harbor, which provides direct access to the two rivers that surround the island of Manhattan - Hudson and the East River.

The harbor is not only strategically important, it is also symbolic because the great emblem of American democracy, the Statue of Liberty, sits in its midst at the approach to New York.

"We have increased our shore patrols. We have increased our harbor patrols with boats and with aircraft," said Dan Ronan, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Fly Fisher. "The Coast Guard is out here seven days a week, 24 hours a day to detect and deter any type of terrorist incidents that may occur, working with our federal, state and local agencies. We have a substantial amount of people out here on the water looking out for them."

Commander Ronan says the Coast Guard relies on help from the local boating community.

"We have a harbor operations committee as well as a port security committee that both the recreational boaters and the commercial boaters are on," he said. "They meet with us. They know what they are looking for and they are very quick to call in to report suspicious activity. Anything that is suspicious that is reported is immediately checked out."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city's diversity and status as the world financial capital make it a terrorist target and all precautions must be taken. With helicopters overhead, troops on the ground and patrols in the harbor, how do New Yorkers feel about the state of heightened security?

"It makes you feel more safe in terms that Bloomberg is taking all the necessary precautions," said one city resident.

"I feel that there is a level of risk that one accepts and you have to go about daily life and keep going," said another.

"I am not alarmed. I do not know if I feel any safer. What is going to happen is going to happen," another resident said.

All of this security comes at a price. Operation Atlas is costing the cash-strapped city an extra $5 million a week, much of it to pay overtime to the police force of more than 36,000. Mayor Bloomberg has asked for federal government help in footing the bill. But he has stated repeatedly that this is not the time to worry about costs, despite the city's financial woes.

"This is very expensive and any aid that we can get from Washington will be greatly appreciated," he said. "But make no mistake about it. We will not skimp on protecting this city. If something has to give, it is not going to be your safety, whether you are worried about terrorist attacks or criminal behavior."

Meanwhile, city officials say they are doing everything than can to keep tourist attractions open. But some hotels are already reporting a drop in occupancy rates.