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New Jersey’s top lawman wants anti-terror measures at rail stations

(The following article by Ken Serrano was posted on the Home News Tribune website on July 1.)

MIDDLESEX COUNTY, N.J. -- The state's top lawman yesterday called for baggage screening at rail stations such as New Brunswick and Metropark to prevent a terrorist strike like the train bombings in Madrid in March that killed more than 190 people.

State Attorney General Peter C. Harvey raised the red flag about rail safety at a conference on domestic preparedness at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville.

But that's just one task among many that local, county, state and federal authorities must undertake to ramp up protections against terrorism, Harvey and other officials said.

Target "hardening" still remains high on the list.

Those targets include petro-chemical facilities in Middlesex County.

"Pharmaceutical-processing plants, malls, train depots, bus stations -- these will be targets of terrorism," Harvey added in an interview after the conference. "These people who engage in terrorism are committed and smart and patient, and they're not going away."

Harvey said the fact that terrorists could set off multiple bombs on several trains by a remote-control device as those trains arrive at the same destination makes the screening critical.

Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said a plan for baggage screening is currently under review by NJ Transit.

"Once we get it, we'll weigh in and make recommendations," Loriquet said.

The conference drew 160 people, including every municipal police chief in Middlesex County, mayors and other elected officials, county officials said.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan called the conference "a blueprint of what needs to occur" as well as an overview of domestic-preparedness measures taken so far. Most of the conference was closed to reporters. Officials cited the need to keep sensitive intelligence confidential.

The conference came as the state prepares to release more than $40 million for homeland security to each of the state's 21 counties. Middlesex County stands to reap the most under one program, more than $3.4 million. State officials have said that Middlesex has a greater risk of attracting terrorists because of key sites.

Middlesex County Freeholder Christopher Rafano said the 2004 Homeland Security Grant will likely buy a fire-and-hazardous-materials boat that will be staffed and maintained by Perth Amboy and a boat for New Brunswick to patrol the Raritan River and its tributaries. The 2004 purchases require state police approval.

Foam fire-suppression equipment, hospital security and EMS training-and-response equipment also will be purchased with the more than $3.4 million. This year's terror funds will also go toward an Office of Emergency Management planner for the county and an expert responsible for safeguarding key county facilities.

The more than $2 million the county received in 2003 is paying for a countywide radio system, training and personal equipment for first responders, such as respirators.

County officials said much progress has been made since the months following Sept. 11.

"Middlesex County is a possible place for an attack to occur," said Freeholder Director David Crabiel. "We'll be in a good position to prevent it or if an attack occurs to react to it."

Intelligence sharing has increased dramatically, from federal authorities to local police departments, Rafano said.

But much more needs to be done.

Harvey said monies included in the recent round of funding will go toward the creation of buffer zones around critical sites.

Those zones would require things from concrete barriers to electronic monitoring devices, he said.

Terrorism is reshaping agencies on all levels. Local police departments in Middlesex County are now forming domestic-preparedness units.

The Prosecutor's Office in March formed its own such unit, assigning two staff members and a supervisor to it.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

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