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New York Steps Up Security Measures for New Year Celebrations - 2003-12-30

Officials in New York are taking unprecedented steps to protect revelers celebrating New Year's Eve in New York's Times Square, as the United States remains on a heightened state of alert for a possible terrorist attack.

Nearly three-quarters of a million people are expected to gather in Times Square to watch a giant crystal ball drop at the stroke of midnight, the climax of New York City's New Year's eve celebration.

Security officials in the New York region are working with the federal government to help protect the area, just one-and-a-half weeks after the national terror alert status was raised to its second highest level.

Officials in New York City has been on a heightened state of alert since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted New York's request for military air patrols over the city during the New Year's holiday. The Federal Aviation Administration will also impose temporary flight bans over parts of the city.

Thousands of local uniformed and undercover police officers are patrolling New York's streets and subways. As a security precaution, officials have ordered the removal of garbage bins from Times Square and have fenced off side-streets. In additon, more than 200 metal detectors have been set up to screen revelers. Special radiation detectors will also be used to check holidaymakers' bags.

At a news conference, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said so-called "chatter" reported by intelligence agencies has led police to increase their presence at soft targets, such as hotels.

"Quite frankly, we are paying perhaps additional attention to hotels and sensitive locations this year," he said. "We have more personnel, we have counter-terrorism helicopters that we are using and we are focusing on landmarked buildings, hotels and financial districts."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to reassure the public, saying there has been no specific threat to New York City.

"The reason for the heightened security is that we have a large number of people together and it is a symbolic time of the year and particularly New Year's Eve, a symbolic evening," he said. "Should you feel any less threatened, or more threatened today than any other day? No, you should go about your business."

New York City is experienceing an increased number of tourists this the holiday season and many have already visited the Time's Square area for the New Year's celebration.

"We have seen it on [television] so we want to be here and see it and feel it," said one tourist. "It is going to be nice, it is going to be busy, crowded."

This year's special guest for the live, televised celebration at Time's Square will be Shoshana Johnson, who spent 22 days as a prisoner of war in Iraq, after she was shot during an ambush. Ms. Johnson is expected to help drop the 485-kilogram Waterford crystal ball and lead a 60-second countdown to the new year.